Dr. Steve Austin

The speaker for CSAA’s conference this weekend is Dr Steve Austin. This should make for a very interesting conference. Dr. Austin is that he is a young earth creationist that actually has Masters and Ph.D degrees in geology, from real universities:

  • B.S. (Geology), University of Washington, Seattle, WA,1970
  • M.S. (Geology), San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, 1971
  • Ph.D. (Geology), Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, 1979

Even more unusually, he obtained his degrees as a creationist (as opposed to getting the degrees first and converting later). Nothing I could find online talks about his childhood or family prior to University. Because they would never miss the opportunity to share a good conversion story, I assume that means he was raised Christian. At any rate he published letters implying young earth beliefs during his masters program, and was employed by the Institute for Creation Research by 1973, so for at least his entire academic career he believed that the earth was less than 10,000 years old.

Furthermore, rather than have a a specialty unrelated to his beliefs, according to several interviews his Ph.D. research was influenced by his young earth perspective. His thesis title, Depositional environment of the Kentucky No. 12 coal bed (middle Pennsylvanian) of western Kentucky, with special reference to the origin of coal lithotypes, doesn’t really give any clues that it might be relevant to the age of the earth. The thesis was published in 1979, the year before Penn State has thesis abstracts available online, so the content is not available without an ILL.
I also cannot find any relevant publications from during his degree program. There is one abstract from a meeting of the Geological Society of America, published the same year as his defense:

The Kentucky No. 12 coal bed of Western Kentucky contains a complex sequence of carbonaceous shale partings which is unlike any reported in the literature. In Hopkins, Muhlenberg, and part of Ohio counties, the coal has eight thin carbonaceous shale partings, six of which extend over an area exceeding 1,500 sq km. As the coal thickens southward from less than 1 cm to over 2m, the partings split off from the overlying shaly coquina and dark gray mudstone, and pass into the coal bed. At their point of entry into the top of the coal bed, the partings are rich in clay and contain marine fossils. At a distance of over 10km south of their point of entry, partings usually are deficient in clay, richer in coaly materials, and lack marine fossils. Some partings grade southward into bony coal bands and futsin clast conglomerate. Partings have high illite and quartz, low kaolinite and Montmorillonite, normal titanium, and in other ways resemble marine shales above the coal. Partings are rich in inertinite minerals (inertodetrinite, fusinite, and secretion sclerotinite) and have a significant amount of detrital vitrinite. The data is inconsistent with the theory that the partings formed by leaching of thin volcanic ash layers, and at odds with the notion that the partings were synthesized in situ by weathering of the peat substrate. River flooding can be discounted as the mechanism for distributing clay because no fluvial channel system was found in association with the coal. Partings in the Kentucky No. 12 coal bed formed by marine flooding of the surface of peat deposition.­­

Evidence for marine origin of widespread carbonaceous shale partings in the Kentucky No. 12 Coal Bed (Middle Pennsylvanian) of Western Kentucky. Geological Society of America, Abstracts With Programs 11(7):381-382.

I had to search for more interviews to figure out how this was supposed to relate to creationism. Apparently his research showed that this coal bed formed from a giant floating log mat during Noah’s flood. I’m no geologist, but I read the abstract to mean that there was marine flooding over the coal bed, not a log mat during a flood. And the phrase “unlike any reported in the literature” seems to undermine the idea of a global flood. So I’m a bit confused.

What impact did his beliefs have on his academic career? I have many questions about this which I’ll have to ask over the weekend because I can’t find any details online. The academics have probably already noted the 8 year duration of his Ph.D. program, after he already had a Masters degree in the field. Especially in the 1970s, this is a very long time. This may have been for personal reasons or included a break from the program, or it could have been the result of difficulties with his research. His lack of publications during this time period (ignoring articles for the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and letters to Geology journals criticizing uniformitarianism) makes me think it was likely the latter. But what in particular created obstacles?

  • Did his YEC worldview cause him to make hypotheses that did not match real world observations?
  • Did he submit papers with Bible references as is common in YEC journals and get laughed at by the editors?
  • Did he develop a reputation in his field as “that creationist guy” which closed doors for him?
  • Or did he just have plain bad luck (in spite of prayer)?

Questions I’d like to ask him to figure this out are:

  • How did he select his research project? Did he choose to investigate this particular coal bed because he knew it was associated with marine fossils and wanted to prove the coal formed during the flood? Or was he assigned to this project by his supervisor
  • Did he work on this project the whole time or did he change during his degree? If there was a change, why?

I would also like to ask him about funding. As far as I can tell, “creation scientists” should be a fairly well funded group. ICR alone turns around about $6,000,000 a year, and they don’t seem to employ that many scientists.

And yet the publications in creation journals are mostly what I refer to as “Bible fan fiction”. Often there are no new observations or even modelling, limited to mashing Biblical details and real world facts into a coherent narrative.

Dr. Austin seems to be, at heart, a field guy. He seems to like visiting sites personally and collecting data. And his publications are, on average, better than expected for a creation journal. 

And he has really interesting ideas for research. For example, in a 2010 interview for CMI, he said that he wanted to create shale in the lab. The dominant theory states this should be impossible, because the fine layers are deposited one at a time, and build up gradually. But creationism requires mountains of the stuff to have formed during the single year of Noah’s flood.

P1000030

The young earth paradigm is making a clear prediction about not yet observed phenomena that would contradict the dominant paradigm. And he has a feasible experimental set up to observe this phenomena. All he needs is a big swimming pool and some paddles. This experiment would be actual creation science, without the need for scare quotes.

If he was successful at this, it would get the attention of the scientific community. A handful of positive experiments like this, and people would be seriously considering the merits of creationism. Not to mention the possible commercial applications of the technology it could produce. No one denies science that we can actively observe and use. That’s how they ended up with the distinction between “micro evolution” and “macro evolution” in the first place.

So why hasn’t he done it? In the article he said he wanted it done by 2011, but there has been nothing about it since.

So here are the options I see:

  1. He couldn’t get funding. This would imply that:
    1. His funders think he will fail. In which case what do they really believe?
      1. If it’s not possible now, why would it have been possible during Noah’s flood?
      2. But I’m not sure that the people with the money really believe in “creation science”. They believe in whatever the Bible says, and are willing to accept constant miracles and an incoherent Universe. Which would mean that even the hardcore, young earth, “creation science” is nothing but an elaborate cover to keep evolution out of schools!
    2. His funders don’t understand the significance of this experiment.
      1. This may explain why there is so much “Bible fan fiction” published. They see one paper as equal to another, not understanding the difference between quality research that would actually prove something and useless speculation.
    3. All of the “creation science research” foundations that are moving money are spending it all on publicity and not on research.
  2. He tried and failed, and kept the results quiet.
    1. How is he justifying this to himself?

Hopefully I’ll be able to get some answers this weekend.

Grand Unified Theory of Creationism

I’ve spent a lot of time reading creationist literature, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are actually 4 distinct groups of creationist, each of which has very distinct motives for their beliefs. I think that interactions with creationists are doomed to go badly if we don’t understand which type we are talking to. So here are my categories.

Young Earth – Leadership

“I believe in God, and God told me we did not evolve”

(Answers in Genesis/Creation Ministries International/Institute for Creation Research, etc)

Imagine that you KNOW everything written in the Bible is literally true. Imagine you had observed everything that happens in the Bible yourself. You accept it the way you accept everyday, repeatable observations, like the sky appears blue and dropped objects fall toward the Earth. In fact more so, because your senses can be fooled by evolution, but God never lies. These are NOT hypotheses to be tested, these are incontrovertible data points to be accounted for.

Now, take those additional data points, plus everything else you observe in everyday life, and try to come up with coherent explanations for the Universe.

They are not inherently opposed to science. Many of those at the leadership level are actually very interested in science, and a surprising amount of effort and diligence does go into their studies. They passionately believe that the universe can be understood by man, in fact was designed to be understood by man. But the data that they are most certain of, because it came from an entirely infallible source, contradicts most of modern science.

So they are forced to come up with their own theories. This process has more in common with Trekkies debating the laws of the Star Trek Universe than it does with actual science. Except that they don’t go home after the convention and continue their lives in the real world, because they actually believe that they live in their alternate universe. And because their stories were fantasy written by nomads 2000 years ago instead of sci-fi written 50 years ago, theories that allow those stories to be literally true and still work with the universe today tend to be even more convoluted and weird than those proposed by the Trekkies.

Old Earth – Leadership

“Evolution could not have created us, therefore God must have.”

(Intelligent Design Theorists/Reasons to Believe/Discovery Institute/etc)

This group sincerely believes that there are problems with evolution that make it untenable. Because life could not have evolved on its own, there must be a god. Details on the limits of evolution and degree of God’s required involvement vary.

One interesting thing about the Old Earth leadership group is that there is really no theological support for this belief. If you are willing to accept that Genesis is figurative, there is nothing in the Bible or Christian theology that makes God creating the species at different times throughout history easier to swallow than God setting up the universe so that we would evolve. Their rejection of evolution provides the support for their faith.

Note that the driving factor here is the exact opposite of the Young Earth Leadership. For Young earthers it’s “God, therefore Creation”, for old earthers it’s “Creation, therefore God”. Both leadership groups have spent a lot of time thinking about their beliefs, and generally have a belief system that is internally self-consistent, at least for the common questions. So it’s almost always one or the other. With the general public you’ll often hear both, which is obviously circular reasoning.

This group will probably gradually die out on its own. The evidence for evolution is getting to the point where no one sincerely looking at the evidence will doubt that evolution is possible. At this point they will probably find other reasons to believe in God, and join one of the many Christian denominations that accept evolution. Or if this was truly their last reason to believe in God they will become atheists. More likely, the people who have devoted their careers to this belief will cling to it until they die out, but fewer and fewer younger people will be drawn into this group.

It is a straightforward God-of-the-gaps argument, and as the gap closes people will naturally gravitate away from it.

One complication with this group is that they are often heavily funded by the Young Earth groups. This is because the Young Earth groups realise that they don’t stand a chance at getting young earth creationism into the schools. And “intelligent design” is a nice compromise to sneak in. The young earthers actually believe that these people are fundamentally wrong about issues far more serious than the age of the earth. They believe that the doctrine of sin before the fall and other issues are crucial, BUT if you believe in Jesus you are saved and will go to heaven. Therefore they are willing to work with old earth groups anyway.

This generally does not work the other way around. The old earth leadership group is committed to scientific evidence and does not respect the young earthers, and hate them for reducing their credibility by bringing the Bible up in “scientific” papers and making ridiculous unscientific claims. However funding for old earth creationist research is scarce, so they often accept funds from young earthers anyway.

This group is also virtually absent in Alberta (though much more popular in BC), and thus hasn’t had as much of my attention.

Old Earth – Public

“I’m not one of THEM”

(The majority of the congregation at a church that supports the old earth organizations above)

This group is the compromisers. They haven’t looked into the issue themselves, they just don’t want to be “one of those crazy people”. This means that they don’t want to be one of those crazy Bible thumping biblical literalists, but they also don’t want to be one of those sinful atheists, and they consider old earth creationism to be a reasonable compromise. It’s all about identity, they don’t care about the evidence. They may feed you a couple of memorized tag lines about evolution being a lie or share some creationist links on Facebook, but it is always more like a school cheer than an argument, just to identify which team they are on. If you actually want to discuss what they shared, they will either get really defensive and hurt that you would disagree with them, or try to shift everything around so that they are really agreeing with everyone.

What really resonates with them is arguments like “Stalin and Hitler were driven to commit genocide because of their belief in evolution”. They do not want to believe in evolution because they want to be good people, and good Christian people don’t believe in evolution.

As the old earth leadership dies out, these people will probably also drift toward accepting evolution.

It is pointless to try and convince this group of the facts of evolution, because they are not interested in the facts. If you are going to try to convince them you need to help them understand that good people, and even most Christians, accept evolution and it does not turn them into murderous sinners.

Young Earth – Public

“Why would I trust some scientist over my pastor?”

(The majority of the congregation at an old earth church.)

These people have never taken the time to look into the issue either. But unlike the old earth public, they are dogmatic and unflinching. They tend to have a strong distrust for the government and intellectuals, and tend to believe that scientists are actively suppressing the truth to promote atheism. Conspiracy theories abound.

Christians are at war with Satan/atheists. Believing in evolution is the first step in inviting Satan in.

They believe in whatever the Bible says. Though quite often that’s whatever their parents/pastor told them the Bible says, because they haven’t read it themselves. But if it says something that contradicts science, they trust the Bible.

They tend to believe in Satan, and that he is actively manipulating those that accept evolution, and constantly trying to trick them. Therefore if some part of their religion doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s probably a trick. The correct response is to pray, not to question God.

Sometimes the lines between the two public groups are blurred, and do not strictly follow the young earth/old earth distinction. Although people with the “young earth personality” tend to be drawn to young earth churches, and vice versa, often which church you go to is also influenced by where your family goes. Of course the church you go to also influences your beliefs, and all anti-evolution churches seem to be very in-group/out-group oriented.

Discovering the Ah Ha! of Life

For this second presentation by Dr. Bierle I was the only atheist present as far as I know. The presentation was in the main church with about 90 people attending.
The presentation was basically the same as the previous night, except I think he somehow managed to cover even less material.

He kept talking about all the exciting things he is going to get into tomorrow morning. Which is odd, because last night he told me that Sunday morning would be almost identical to Friday night, but I didn’t learn any of these things Friday night.

He began with another summary of his “conversion” story, which after my research this afternoon seemed even more absurd. He went on about how when he went to college he abandoned church, abandoned the Christian faith. He also specified that the conversion process with the chemistry professors lasted 1.5 years, which means it that his professors began converting him back to Christianity as soon as he entered the only secular college he ever attended, and confirming that the time when his academic peers talked him out of his faith was while he was at Christian college.

There was an odd illustration that he did go over last night, but I didn’t mention it because I didn’t understand it and couldn’t explain it without the picture. Tonight he gave a handout with the illustration:

trianglecircle

I still don’t really understand it.

The triangle represents the world. And it starts out with just the dirt at the bottom. If the world existed with just dirt and nothing else what would be the purpose of the dirt? It wouldn’t have a purpose, because it would be nothing but dirt. (I’m not sure why the dirt having no purpose is a problem, but he seemed very clear that it was)

Now imagine a world with just dirt and grass. What is the purpose of the dirt? For the grass to grow in. But what is the purpose for the grass? There is none. (To prevent erosion of the dirt? Is there sunlight and CO2 in this imaginary world? Do they need a purpose? Are they somehow less animate than dirt? Do we have bacteria and worms to break down the dead grass and aerate the soil and make this system work? Do they need a purpose? What’s the purpose of this illustration anyway?

Now we add a deer, and I’m guessing you know how that turns out. The grass is suddenly “fulfilled” but the deer has no purpose.

Then we add a man. Actually a Greek statue, but he represents a man. And the man eats the deer, so now the deer is fulfilled and has purpose (tell that to the deer!) but the man has no purpose.

(Then we add a cougar, and the cougar eats the man, so the man has purpose?)

We can’t solve this problem by anything we can add to the triangle, because anything we can put in the triangle is finite.

Nothing ultimately matters because in the end we die. (Apparently feeding the grass is sufficient “purpose” for the dirt, but not for us.) “To give [the things in the triangle, or at least the top thing in the triangle] the information that it lacks you need something infinite.” (I guess meaning and purpose are information that we lack?)

Our universities are teaching that nothing outside of that triangle exists. But God is a circle outside of the triangle. Therefore you don’t need to ask what God’s purpose is, because he’s not a in the triangle. He’s a circle. (Actually the man is halfway out of the triangle too but I’m not sure if that is relevant to the analogy or poor graphic design skills. I’m pretty sure his slides haven’t been modified since the 90s.)

So when you add the circle to the triangle, no more explanation is required, because the circle is not in the triangle.

Got it? If you do, please explain it to me.

He cut out all of the intelligent design talk, presumably because at some point he clued in that it’s a young earth church. So he basically just stated as fact that the Universe is obviously designed, and skipped right into how we know the Christian God designed it.

And in order to design the world, God must be personal and infinite. Because he’s a circle. (Would a square be impersonal and infinite? What about a sphere?)

So which religions fit that description?

  • Hinduism and Buddhism are pantheistic. (Wikipedia places Buddhism and Christianity in the same category in the ‘pantheism’ article, in that both have pantheistic elements and some practitioners are pantheists.)
    • They place too much emphases on infinite
    • God is  “not a person, it’s a forest”
  • Nordics and Greeks are personal but not infinite.
    • The gods have more problems than the people do.
    • They fight, and they are jealous (“For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God”…)
    • “They aren’t big enough to be God.”
  • That leaves us with Judaism, Islam and Christianity. (That’s right, there have only been 7 religions in the history of the world. And of course it’s not possible that none of the existing religions are right, and the actual God hasn’t been accurately described yet.)
    • These are the only religions that claim to have an infinite, personal god.
    • Judaism and Islam base their knowledge  of God on God’s revelation to them.
    • Christians are tempted to say that’s true for them too. (Because it is)
    • But if a Christian understands properly they will realise that the infinite, personal God became flesh and lived with us. (According to God’s revelation…)
    • “The circle came into our triangle and lived here for 30 some years” (But we only have recorded stories about 3.5 of those years.)

So the one thing special about Christianity is that the circle came into the triangle. I think he earlier said that everything in the triangle required a purpose, and God didn’t because he was outside of the triangle, so now that he’s in the triangle is it fair to ask that question?

Anyway, after that was the same lecture on Biblical accuracy as he gave last night. He stated that the purpose of the lecture was so that the people there could go out and challenge others and convince them that the Bible was accurate. But it struck me that he had a very bad strategy if that was the case.

He was constantly stating “facts” that contradict scholarly consensus. But he wasn’t even mentioning that they were at all controversial. If someone came up to me and said “I know the Bible is true because we have a copy of the Gospel of Matthew from 66 AD” the first thing I’m going to do is go on Wikipedia and notice that we don’t. I only managed to find the obscure scholar he was quoting because I knew enough to write down names, dates and papyrus numbers. But no one else in that church was taking notes. When they look it up they will think he was just outright lying, which should hurt his credibility.

The same is true for the number of manuscripts. As soon as anyone looks into it they will notice that only 3% of those were written in the same millennium as what happened. 

To determine that most of the Gospel authors didn’t claim to be eyewitnesses all they would have to do is read the Gospels.

He’s counting on no one ever seriously looking into what he’s said. Which is bizarre when he’s trying to teach them to be apologists.

A Scientist’s Journey from Faith to More Faith

Friday night I went to the presentation “A Scientist’s Journey from Skepticism to Faith” by Dr. Don Bierle at the McLaurin Memorial Baptist Church.

The crowd included 6 people from the Society of Edmonton Atheists, and only 33 others. The group was on average much younger and more interracial than most similar presentations I’ve been to. I was initially hopeful that this might mean that the old earth, intelligent design message resonates better with a younger crowd than the young earth perspective. However we discovered later in the presentation that the church congregation is actually young earth, and seemed unaware that they had recruited a speaker that *gasp* believes in the Big Bang! I’m still not sure that the audience had figured it out by the end of the night, so I’m hoping for a good show Saturday evening.

They started the evening by asking us to talk about our favourite scientist. The organizer selected someone from the crowd, who answered “abiogenesis”.

Given the title of the presentation, I was expecting a story about a hard core denier of the Christian faith dramatically converting to Christianity. Instead, we heard about how he was raised Christian, but during his education in biology he began to feel that “I didn’t need God. I could do pretty much anything I put my mind to. Thankfully, I never became an atheist though. I guess you could call me more of a deist.” He always believed that there must be a God because the universe was so complex, but he didn’t think it had any impact on his life.

Then, in graduate school, two chemistry professors convinced him of the evidence for Christianity, and he became a Christian.

It sounds like he was oddly similar to the Christian stereotype about nonbelievers, people who don’t really think about God or the big questions because they want to be able to live however they want. He wasn’t even actively doubting his religion, just ignoring it. And yet he uses the label “skeptic” to describe that time of his life. I bet he wouldn’t have used that label for himself then, especially publically.

Looking into his background online, his story gets even more murky. He grew up in rural South Dakota in the 1940s. In 1959 he went into Augustana College, which even today describes itself as “rooted in the liberal arts and sciences and a Lutheran expression of the Christian faith” and honouring “its roots and affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America”.  At some point he transferred to Westmar College, an even more religious institution which at the time was affiliated with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. This is where he got his Bachelor of Arts  degree in Biology in 1963. In 1965 he became a Christian while attending graduate school at the University of South Dakota.

So although he speaks of his peers in the sciences causing him to doubt the Christian faith, these doubts either arose while attending a devoutly Christian college during his undergrad, or his period of scepticism lasted less than 2 years. Also his big conversion took place at the prompting of two professors evangelising at the most secular college he ever attended.

The biography descriptions describing him as a scientist also seem greatly exaggerated. From one online biography:

“A research scientist for several years, Dr. Bierle was a team member on scientific expeditions to both the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions, and has published several articles in scientific journals.”

An journal search reveals that he was 2nd author on four papers during his graduate degree. After getting his PH.D he worked for two years under a National Science Foundation grant, and presented his work presented at some conferences but no publications. After that he took a position as Dean at St Paul Bible College, which doesn’t do research. At some point he got a second masters in New Testament Studies, and now he primarily does evangelical work.

When speaking about his ministry he noted that they were sharing evidence for the Christian faith in Russian public schools, to which an audience member remarked “wish we had that here!”

He complained about roadside banners in support of Minnesota Atheists, noting that “When I was young there was really no excuse to listen to atheists. But now it is everywhere.” It’s too bad we didn’t get those bus ads out this summer Smile.

Then he got into intelligent design, saying that “over 800 scientists say there is support for intelligent design.” He later called that “plenty”. He even had an excuse for why it’s only old guys, stating that many stay silent until they secure tenure, then they come out.

His first evidence for intelligent design was that when SETI looks for intelligent life, they look for the existence of coded information on the signal. For example in the movie Contact, the aliens send a repeating signal of prime numbers. This was the series shown on his slide:
2,3,5,7,11,13,17,23, etc
This set me off daydreaming about how scientists would react if they received a repeating sequence of the first 9 prime numbers which for some reason was arbitrarily missing 19. Is this sequence still “Too highly ordered to come about by chance?” Would the scientists, eagerly listing to the signal, be thinking “yes, this is definitely a message from an intelligent source” but then when it skipped 19 decide that no, it must be coincidence. If the line between obviously designed information and random chance is as clear and obvious as he was saying, shouldn’t the fact that he skipped 19 make his message unintelligible? After all, if you get DNA out of sequence “the thing dies”. Except for the 55 million known variations in the human genome, which he of course failed to mention.

His next example was about how software, like DNA, is so complex it cannot be evolved, which is why Microsoft has to spend a lot of money hiring programmers. He was apparently unaware of how much Microsoft has invested in evolutionary algorithms.

Thus convinced that the Universe must have been designed (note that above when talking about how he was not an atheist but a deist he seemed to imply that he never doubted that), Dr Bierle then went on a journey to find out “who this God might be”. Not surprisingly this journey involved closely examining only the God of his friends, family, and University. Somewhat surprising was his justification for this, that Christianity was the only religion that can point to their God existing in history, and that therefore the claims can be examined scientifically.

He starts by talking about how the Biblical authors all claim to be eyewitnesses (which they don’t, except possibly for John) and we have many more copies of Bible manuscripts than any other document from the same time. And yet “no one says read Homer with caution.” Apparently he has never seen the introduction to pretty much any book of Homer, because every copy I’ve seen says exactly that. He can’t even say this is a recent development, because my 1909 edition of the Harvard Classics contains 4 pages of disclaimers. Also if someone told me that Homer or Julius Caesar was infallible wisdom from God that I should base all of my life decisions on I might care a bit more about their level of accuracy.

Then he says we have a copy of the Gospel of Matthew from just over 30 years after Jesus’s death – 66AD! He is using Dr. Carsten’s dating of P-64, which the rest of the academic community dates to the 2nd century. In fact you’d have trouble finding more than a handful of scholars that believe the Gospel of Matthew was even written before 66AD.

And of course, if manuscripts existed that early they must be true. After all, “If it didn’t happen the way they said it would be challenged. But that didn’t happen.” So there were no challenges whatsoever to early Christianity. No schisms, no divisions, no controversies, not even the ones mentioned in the Bible itself. Not to mention that as Dr. Carrier pointed out, if it happened the way the Bible says it happened and everyone knew that, there would have been challenges! A man crucified by the Roman Empire came back from the dead and the Romans just ignored this situation?

Next he went on about the reliability of Luke, and how the people he names have been proven to exist by archaeological finds.  “Luke claimed he researched everything very carefully before he ever wrote”…but wait, didn’t he just say Luke was an eyewitness? Why did it take research to know who was governor if he was an eyewitness? And what about all the things he got wrong, like the unrecorded census where everyone had to return to their homeland, over multiple day journeys, that no one else seemed to notice?

Then he concluded with a lot of random preaching about his conversion, and how he read the book of Job and that’s when he became a Christian. (Seriously? Job!?!)

bierle

Followed by a short question period.
The first was from an education student with a minor in biology. “In this economy I’m more  likely to be employed as a biology teacher than a English teacher. But I am a young earth  creationist and I know evolution is a lie and I don’t want to teach it.”

He responded “you should teach the evolutionary paradigm in your classes.” Children need to understand evolution because that world view is very important in today’s society. The Supreme Court has ruled that alternatives to evolution can be taught in schools as long as they are based on nature. (Wrong country dude)

Next was a question about what was wrong with believing in evolution being directed by God. To which he responded “Can God guide an unguided process?” The mechanism in the two are contradictory.

Next was “What do you make of the evidence of gravitational waves?” This was obviously asked by someone who did not realise that Dr. Bierle accepts the Big Bang. After admitting that he is not a physicist, he added that the discovery of the Big Bang forced scientists to admit that the Universe had a beginning, which was a step forward for Christians.

Alexander asked a question about the probability of our universe arising, but he rambled off topic in the answer. It involved “Show me some illustrations where chance has led to order, macro not microevolution” but then later said it just had to be something small, “not the big picture”. Given that the big picture is pretty much the definition of macro evolution versus microevolution I found this confusing.

The final question was “do you feel that science is always playing catch up with the Bible?” To which he basically answered no, science is good, we should be doing science. Scientism is the problem. The scientific method has to acknowledge that it is limited, it can’t tell you you are beautiful for example.

This caused several young earthers in the room to get uneasy, but unfortunately we were out of time.

This weekend he is also doing a “fellowship meeting” for men only at the church this morning, and talks Saturday and Sunday evenings. He is talking Sunday morning during church service, which is supposed to be largely a repeat of Friday night’s talk.

Saturday night’s talk is free and open to the public, starting at 7:15PM.

Defending the Christian Faith in Today’s Worldview – Ken Ham

This lecture was kind of all over the place. It had more of the technical details I’m interested in than the others, but it also had a lot of trying to convince Christians that creationism is important. Because he was bouncing all over, and I couldn’t keep up with my notes, this post is going to be difficult to follow.

Ken started this lecture off by showing us their new advertisement in Times Square:

Does that mean I met the real Jesus at the Holy Land Experience too? I’m glad I got his autograph! The fact that Noah was animatronic is missing from the Bible, but it does explain how he managed to live 950 years.

Then Ken started ranting about how “historical science” is different than “observational science”:

“It doesn’t matter is found, the evolutionists will always have an answer. Always. You know why? Because no matter what you find you modify your model to fit the find.”

Contrary to Ken’s assertions, this isn’t just true of “historical science”. It’s true of science in general. Scientists observed that Mercury’s orbit didn’t quite match that predicted by Newton’s equations, and Einstein’s general relativity replaced Newton’s universal gravitation. Scientists observed that electrons seem to be more free to move around than protons, and the Rutherford model of the atom replaced the Bohr model. And my husband has observed that the expression of the gene that regulates his protein doesn’t fit in the current model. And he is desperately trying to figure out how the model needs to be revised to account for these observations. None of that is “historical science”. It’s just science. The models are refined as you observe new evidence.

When we find new observations that don’t fit into the current model, we come up with a new model that explains the difference. Then we create a hypothesis based on the new model that predicts something different (that has not yet been observed) from the existing model. Then we test it to see if that prediction is true.

There’s only one way you can be sure to understand all about history and how it all happened and what it’s all about. There’s only one way. You can use someone who’s always been there, who knows everything, who doesn’t tell a lie, who reveals for us the key evidence that we need to know to give us that story. Does anyone know anyone like that?

There’s only one other possibility. Man has to figure it all out.

No, I don’t know anyone like that. I don’t think anyone like that exists. Fortunately, I do know that man has done a very good job of figuring things out.

The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the structure of the atom. It doesn’t tell us anything about electricity. It doesn’t tell us that illness is often caused by germs, and that we can prevent it with hygiene and drugs to kill those germs. Man had to figure all of that out. And we did a very good job of it. Why are the same techniques so inadequate for figuring out what happened in the past?

Also, why is the Bible so useless at figuring out the present? Where are all of the scientists saying “I was just reading the Bible the other day and I came up with this great invention”? If we had  looked to the Bible and noted that seizures are caused by daemons, would we have treatments? We observed people with epilepsy. We built new and better equipment to observe what was going on better. And we developed treatments that allow them to live normal lives. Even for defeating daemons man seems to win out over the Bible.

Next he got back into why Christians shouldn’t believe in evolution:

“There are Christians that say you know, God could have used the big bang. Well it’s not a matter of what God could have done, its a matter of what God said he did.”

I kept this quote just to emphasize the difference between AIG and the intelligent design theorists. AIG doesn’t believe in God because evolution is impossible. They believe evolution did not happen because God said so. The two ideologies are contradictory and incompatible.

Back to the Bill Nye debate:

“One of the statements Bill Nye made was that you would expect out of order fossils. Well here’s the thing. According to evolutionists you find fossils in a particular order. Why are there no out of order fossils? Because they often find fossils out of order, so then they just say the range has increased so they are no longer out of order!”

Well Ken, I’m touring the Bergess Shale this summer. If I find a fossilized bunny rabbit I will be convinced. If we “often” find fossils out of order, then I expect I shouldn’t have much trouble finding a clear example if I travel the world looking for one over the next two years.

But of course you don’t actually mean “often”. You mean that there are a handful of examples, so unconvincing that you don’t even want to list them, of anomalies in the fossil record that were plausibly explained by extending the range organism. You do not mean that someone discovered a precambrian cow. Presuming cattle outnumbered dinosaurs before the flood, shouldn’t we at least have a few Jurassic cattle?

Then he bounced back to the irrationality of atheism:

From the perspective of someone who’s an atheist, when they die they cease to exist. When people like you die they cease to exist. If they cease to exist, and the people around us today cease to exist, why do they bother to do anything? Why bother fighting creationism? What does it ultimately matter? Yeah they can say it matters because of the here and now and all the rest of it, but so what? Eventually you won’t even know! And you won’t even know you existed! They know. The knowledge of God is written on their hearts. They have a conscience! They know! Otherwise they wouldn’t bother.

Ken, how do you like it when people say the only reason you believe in the Bible is that you’re a homophobic misogynistic bigot? No reasonable person could believe that crap, you just like the excuse to beat your wife and children. You must believe the earth goes around the sun because it says so in the Bible! You think slavery and genocide must be good because they are in the Bible. And my imaginary friend says you don’t even exist!

Could you consider for a moment that other people’s beliefs might also be more complex and nuanced than some absurd caricature? Stop telling me what I must believe.

Having thus defeated the atheists, he moved on to other religions.

“There are people that say, you know, why not other books? Why not the Qur’an or why not…you know there are books written about Budda and Hindus have books and they have their sacred writings. Tell me one other book that does this. This book, the Bible, claims to be, over 3000 times, the word of God, who has always been there. And it reveals to us a very specific history. What other book gives us the origin of space, the origin of time, the origin of matter (God created the heavens and the Earth), the origin of water, the origin of the earth, the origin of dry land, the origin of plants, the origin of sea creatures, of sun, the moon, stars, the origin of sea creatures, the origin of life, the origin of land creatures, the origin of man, the origin of women, the origin of marriage, the origin of clothing, the origin of death, the origin of cultures, the origin of language the origin basis of understanding fossils, the flood of Noah’s day. What other book does that?”

Well, the Qur’an has all of those stories with slightly different details, so obviously that one. And pretty much every religion has some kind of creation story. Those are the common questions that religion was created to address. So as far as religious texts go, almost all of them.

 It gives such a specific history if it was true what would you expect to find? You would expect to find that there was only one race. Well guess what the human genome project found in 2006? There’s only one race. If it was true that God created the animals after their kind what would you expect? Each kind of animal would only produce it’s own kind. Guess what? Dogs only produce dogs. Cats only produce cats. Elephants only produce elephants. If this was true, that there was a global flood, you’d expect to find millions of dead things buried by rock laid down by water all over the earth. What do you find? That’s exactly what you find. And if the tower of Babel really happened then as they split up they would have taken accounts of the flood and creation, and they would have changed them, but ours would have been similar to the Bible The Jews borrowed their stories from the Babylonians, but they are the original. You have gods, not just one God, but gods, fighting and procreating and you have man being fought over by these gods and all sorts of issues, like with the flood, and they have all sorts of things about gods cutting each other in half, and gods that die. I mean if you have a look at which one sounds like the original. One Babylonian account has the boat a cube shaped seven stories high, that wouldn’t survive the flood very well!

You think the Noah story is so much more plausible than all other flood myths that we can obviously tell which one is true? I’m going to hold off on discussing which boat shape would be more likely to hold up to the flood until I finish my analysis of Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study and Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood, but I certainly don’t think it’s obvious that Noah’s boat was better. In addition, here’s a short list of things that make the flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh more plausible than the one in the Old Testament:

  1. Team of workmen built the boat, not a family of 8.
  2. Flood not necessarily global.
  3. The flood lasted only 6 days and 6 nights.

That’s 359 days less food and poop to deal with, as well as less need to exercise the animals.

Furthermore, having a bunch of gods disagree over whether the flood was a good idea makes a lot more sense than a single omniscient God that floods the earth and then regrets it after.

I start with God’s word. Bill Nye starts with man’s word.

Actually Bill Nye starts with observations of how the world works today. You start with man’s word, transmitted orally for centuries by illiterate nomads, written on scrolls, copied by people with an agenda, translated…

Science is the state of knowledge. So when they say science is in conflict with the Bible they are saying knowledge is in conflict with the Bible. Who’s knowledge? Is it false knowledge, is it true knowledge? What do they mean?

I don’t even know where to start with that.

What they’re saying is, we look at the earth and all the processes going on today, and we use that to understand the past. But how do you know that that’s always the way it’s been? When I said to Bill Nye it hasn’t always been the same because there was a global flood, he accused me of saying the laws of nature changed. The laws of nature don’t change. The events in the past have been different than the present.

I’m not sure why Ken objects to this. By definition a miracle involves suspension of the laws of nature. Does Ken claim that the 1st law of thermodynamics held while God caused the flood? That’s a lot of energy to balance. How could radioactive decay rates change without changing any laws of nature? How did God create the universe matter without violating conservation of matter? If the flood didn’t require the suspension of some laws of nature, what’s stopping it from happening again tomorrow?

My understanding was that God has temporarily changed the laws of nature, at least in the past, and those events are called miracles. If he’s saying that the laws of nature held as they are through those events I’m not sure what he means.

He used the same “creation orchard” picture from the Bill Nye debate:

“Creation orchard” picture I recognized from the Bill Nye debate.

Note that we start with a single branch, presumably representing one uniform kind with no variation at creation. The lines spread out fairly gradually into various species as we move toward the flood. The flood is about 2/3 of the way into the diagram, so it’s actually pretty close to scale. The flood narrows it down to a single kind again, but they immediately spread out to the width they had before the flood.

This seems really odd to me. Why do they take so long to spread out in the beginning, when God told them to “be fruitful and increase in number”? But post flood, when God gives them a new, very powerful predator, is when they really thrive! And if anything wouldn’t genetic variability have been lost in the flood? Remember, we can’t create any new information. So if anything they should spread out slower and to a smaller overall width.

Then the dinosaurs go extinct, which if the diagram is to scale is around 1000BC. But most of their “proof” of dinosaurs coexisting with humans is from late Roman to the middle ages. Why wouldn’t they want to show the dinosaurs being alive for over 2/3 of the history of the universe? Do they think people might find it harder to believe if they showed that?

Even more interesting is the apes. Notice the huge number of species of ape that appear immediately after the flood and then disappear just as suddenly. Even before the dinosaurs. This presumably represents all of the extinct homonids that they don’t consider human.

But the variation into species is caused by natural selection narrowing down the perfect gene pool to the genes that are best suited for a particular environment. So all of that variation should be apes adapting to their environments. Why would they adapt to the environment and then immediately go extinct? If the environment just wasn’t suited for apes, then all of the apes would die. None of them would reproduce, and there would be no selective pressure to branch out into species. Speciation implies that not only did some survive, but that a consistent set of genes was advantageous to survival.

If the diagram is approximately to scale, the post-flood time frame for these species is about 500 years. That’s only 20 generations for most apes. They went from generic ape kind to Australopithecus to extinction in 20 generations?

So why did they draw the extinctions so soon then? Remember, if it is to scale we are talking about 1500BC. And a lot of these fossils were found in the area of Egypt. We are well into the written history of Egypt by this time. Why is there no mention of them? And the flood to now is only 160 ape generations, so it doesn’t get a lot more practical anyway.

When they find a fossil they say it’s a transitional form. If evolution is still going on point to a living animal that is a transitional form. Shouldn’t we see something?

At this point it became very clear that Ken Ham really doesn’t understand evolution. This is not universally true of YECs. I’m really not sure why no one within his organization has pointed out how ridiculous this makes him sound.

When you look for a transitional form, you are trying to explain how a particular feature evolved. You look for older species that do not yet fully have the feature you are examining, but are part way there. Like a fish that does not yet have legs, but maybe has fins that could partially support it’s weight and were used to crawl around the bottom of the pond.

You can’t look for a transitional form for a feature that has not yet developed. There probably are a lot of transitional forms existing today. But until we invent a time machine we’re not going to know what features develop a few million years down the road.

We do have the transitional forms for some of the smaller evolution events we have been able to observe. For example in the e. coli long term evolution experiment we have frozen samples of transitional forms between the bacteria that could not metabolize citrate and the bacteria that could. But Ken Ham doesn’t accept that anything we can demonstrate is evolution, so of course he’s not going to accept these as transitional forms.

We have millions of people, billions of people been brainwashed in a fairy tale. Because they love darkness rather than light.

I honestly can’t believe he said that, not me.

If you go out into the secular world. If you go to the secular museums here in Alberta, if you go to the public schools, if you go to the professors at the Universities, and then you go to the museums in England, for example, or Bolivia, or to the teachers in those countries all around the world, those secular teachers, or in Russia, or in China, it doesn’t matter where you go, here’s what you notice. Or the television programs, the Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, PBS, whatever it is, here’s what you notice. The secular world has the same one, basic message. And they’re in union. They agree. Little differences, but it’s in the school textbooks. School textbooks in Canada are the same as the ones in America, are the same as Germany. What do they say?

Life arose from natural processes. There was a big bang billions of years ago. And they’ve all got much the same dates. You know, about 14 billion years ago. And how the earth and life arose and one type of animal changed into another and ape-like creatures into people. Isn’t that the message? Isn’t it the same the world over?

Now, you go to the church. And you ask the average church goer, the average Christian believer, pastor, deacon, Christian College professor, Bible College professor, Seminary professor in our world today so what do you believe about evolution?

Well, I’m not really sure.

Well could be, but I don’t know.

Well I believe Genesis is just figurative.

Well I believe Adam was real, but he was just an ape-like creature.

I’m not really sure.

I think millions of years fit between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. There’s a gap.

Well I dunno.

Well I think the days were millions of years long.

Well I think there’s a gap between each day of millions of years.

Well I think there was a global flood.

Well I think there was a local flood.

Well I’m not really sure.

Well I believe in the theistic evolution.

Well I believe in progressive creation.

Well I believe in the gap theory.

Well I like the framework hypothesis.

Well I think the day-gap-day-gap theory.

Well I believe in days revelation theory.

But anyway trust in Jesus!

 

 

Do you know why we all these different views and none of them work?They are all attempts to introduce man’s ideas of millions of years somehow into the Bible!

Or perhaps because they are all attempts to reconcile some ancient illiterate nomad’s ideas with reality.

Then he recounted his encounter with a woman who “called herself an atheist” that visited the Creation Museum:

Atheist: See we are real scientists. We start with evidence, and we are prepared to change our theories. You aren’t prepared to change. We are. We will change if new evidence comes along.

Ken Ham: You’re an atheist.

Atheist: That’s right.

Ken Ham: You don’t believe in God.

Atheist: That’s right.

Ken Ham: The Bible’s not true.

Atheist: That’s right.

Ken Ham: You’re not prepared to even consider the account of creation and the flood in the Bible?

Atheist: No, not at all. (So why was she at the Creation Museum?)

Ken Ham: Are you prepared to change any of that?

<Applause and cheers>

He didn’t actually give her response. I’m not sure what it was. I know mine would have been yes. It would take some very convincing evidence. Perhaps even extraordinary evidence. But yes, I am prepared to change my beliefs. I just need someone to give me a good reason.

You see no matter what evidence she finds she’s already decided there is no God, the Bible is not true. And that is why no matter what they find, they’ll always have a story. They’ll always change their beliefs. They’ll change their ideas. Why? Because you’re talking about the past, and therefore they can continually change.

The Bible never changes. God’s word never changes.

 

Hold on. You were just accusing her of being unwilling to change, and now she’s too willing to change? How does that work?

How can they change their starting point? They can’t. Only through the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
If it’s only God that can change them what’s the point of your ministry?

Jesus comes to the tomb of Lazarus. The first thing he says is “take away the stone.” Couldn’t he have with a thought removed the stone? Couldn’t he have made it disappear? But he didn’t. What humans can do he got humans to do. I don’t understand why God works this way, but all through the scriptures you see it. 

So if I care about human suffering even though I don’t believe there is an ultimate purpose, I’m obviously lying. I lie because I’m addicted to sins, which I generally don’t actually commit. But that’s because I know in my heart that they are wrong. So I’m lying to myself and condemning myself to eternal torment so that I can justify a lifestyle that I don’t actually live.

But you devote your life to changing people’s minds that you believe you cannot change. To convince them to believe in a book that says their minds cannot be changed. And that makes sense, for reasons even you admit you don’t understand.

Created in the Image of God – Steve Ham

I was hoping for a talk about how humans differ from our closest relatives, but I was disappointed. It was another talk about why Creationism should be important to Christians. This one was all about ethics, and how there is no basis for morality if you don’t believe that there was a literal Adam 6000 years ago. We are all equally valuable to God and that’s why we should be treated equally. (Yes, the God with the chosen people)

If you believe that “Billions of years ago nothing became something and went bang” then there’s no reason to treat everyone equally, because we are all just a rearrangement of molecules. (Unequal rearrangements of molecules I guess?)

He had a bunch of “which is most valuable” slides, where he displayed 4 different people with different ages, races, disabilities, a 4 day embryo to newborn, etc, and asked which was most valuable. The audience chanted “they are all equal”. For some reason there was no Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis slide, even though I believe they are all created in the image of God now too.

mostvaluable

He then went on about abortion for a while. I was shocked at how few people recognized the name Kermit Gosnell. Then again 8:30 on a Saturday morning isn’t a great time for audience participation. It could be that no one bothered to raise their hands.

The best summary of his main thesis was this:

Our kids are getting a different geology, biology, astronomy, anthropology, and archeology than us. Why should we expect them to have the same ethics as us?

Which seemed odd to me, because if the only basis for morality is God, and God reveals his will to us, what do geology, biology, astronomy, anthropology and archeology have to do with anything? If those things affect morality, it’s almost as if morality isn’t coming from God at all.

They have been backing off on the “evolution is only a theory” line. Here was his new one:

Evolution is not even a theory. You need a provable or falsifiable hypothesis for there to be a theory and they don’t even have that. Therefore it is a religion, not a theory.

He did mention one thing God shared with us that he hasn’t shared with any other creature, self awareness. Which apparently comes down to us wearing clothes, which didn’t happen until Adam and Eve ate the fruit. So were we not self aware before sin? Why is the only concrete example of “God’s image”, the difference between us and the animals, something that we didn’t have in the Garden of Eden?

One interesting thing that I hadn’t heard before was that we were made in the image of God, but we don’t always bare the image of God. For example, Hitler wasn’t bearing God’s image, he was bearing the sinful image of Adam.

He ended with an advertisement for Answers Magazine, the World’s most popular creation based magazine. I’m a bit confused, because I’m pretty sure I heard the same advertisement for Creation Magazine just 5 months ago. Are they tied? And how many creation-based magazines are out there?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – Dr. David Menton

The second talk was a biology talk by Dr. David Menton. The strategy is to give a really detailed talk about some organism or biological process, way more detail than any other public talk would. Make sure that the lecturer is the most knowledgeable person the audience will ever meet, so that when their friends say that no serious scientist believes in Creationism that is who they think of. Then interject periodically with some comment implying that a system this complex never could have evolved. (Dr. Menton’s favorite was “How’s dumb luck workin’ for ya?”)

He completely ignores that almost no scientist that actually studies these systems in detail has any trouble believing that they evolved, and knowing that they evolved in fact often enhances their understanding. We look at how the system differs between different species to gain an understanding of what is important to the function and what is not. If we want to examine a very similar system, we don’t think “God designed all of the species and the only reason we have similarities is that he had a tendency to reuse good designs” and start checking species at random. We take a closely related species.

I love these talks. They are in depth science talks on often fascinating subjects. And yes, they are as accurate as any secular talk on the same subject. They don’t just make stuff up. First of all, lying is a commandment, which they take very seriously. Secondly, they are aware that if they lie, and the audience goes out and looks for more information and discovers everything they were told is untrue, they are not going to win anyone over to their side. But more importantly, the presenters sincerely believe in Creationism. They are not fraudsters trying to sell you snake oil and run with your money. They are not trying to fool you, they are trying to show you what they honestly believe to be the truth. I have never looked for more information on a biology presentation at a creationist event and found the information to be incorrect. You simply don’t have to lie to make biology look incredibly complicated, especially to the uneducated public.

This particular talk was on embryology, and thus doubled as a prolife talk. The full presentation is available online. It doesn’t seem to have changed much, although he looks much younger in the video:
http://www.answersingenesis.org/media/video/ondemand/fearfully/fearfully-wonderfully-made

He starts out with that clear Biblical evidence that life begins at conception, Psalm 139:13:  “You knit me together in my mother’s womb”.

Now I generally try not to tell other people how they should read their holy books, and I obviously don’t think your holy book should have any effect on your political decisions anyway. But I really don’t get this one. Yarn is not a sock. And conception doesn’t actually take place in the womb. In fact I would be significantly more inclined to believe that life begins at conception ignoring the Bible than if I accepted it as an authority.

He goes through the process of fertilization, and actually defines the “moment of conception”, as a moment, rather than the usual “when the sperm meets the egg, and the DNA combines” implying that the “moment of conception” is actually about 36 hours long.

Dr. Menton defines the “moment of conception” to be at when the two pronuclei fuse. Unfortunately the human pronuclei don’t actually fuse, and the DNA doesn’t combine until after it replicates. I tried to pin him down on Sunday about exactly what stage of the process was critical but he didn’t seem that familiar with the details. (I doubt that you could find a retired secular anatomy professor that would be familiar with the details either, but he is giving a presentation on the topic).

Even if human pronuclei did fuse, his reason for choosing this point doesn’t make much sense to me:

“If we just keep our hands off at this point it will progress from this point”

That statement is true throughout the process of fertilization. In fact it is true from ejaculation. If nothing interferes, the process is continuous.

Furthermore, Dr. Menton only talks about twinning at the two cell stage in his presentation. Most human twins actually divide at the early blastocyst stage, and some even later. If the pronuclei meeting is what determines when a new human organism begins, when does the twin begin?

This was followed by an interesting quote:

“How do you know if someone is a sinner? You ask yourself ‘can they die?’  Because in Genesis it says death came into the world through sin.”

Therefore I concluded that Jesus was a sinner! And Satan was not! Good to know.

He also emphasized that Jesus went through all of these stages. But I’m curious about the first steps. Was there a God sperm? Did the Holy Spirit implant a male pronuclei directly into the egg? Does God have DNA? Is there a diploid 46-chromosome God genome from which the 23-chromosomes that went to Jesus was taken? How exactly did that process work?

Then he talked about Plan B, the morning after pill. He read the FDA statement that says it works up to 3 days and cannot stop a pregnancy that has already begun. He then said that this was a government lie, look it up on Web MD. (Always trust Web MD for medical advice over the FDA.)

His explanation was that sperm can get to a fallopian tube in 30 minutes, so how could the pill work to prevent fertilization after 3 days?

This confused me. After that entire in depth discussion of early embryology I don’t see how he couldn’t understand that the issue is more complicated. I think the actual problem here, which I noted repeatedly in Dr. Menton’s presentations, is that he doesn’t have a good understanding of probability. Things were either possible or impossible, there was no unlikely.

Yes, the fastest sperm could get to a fallopian tube is 30 minutes. Although capacitation, which he clearly understands because he mentions it in his presentation, generally takes a couple of hours. So realistically the earliest conception could possibly occur is a couple of hours after sex. If you have unprotected sex immediately after ovulating and the sperm race up there and undergo capacitation as fast as possible, Plan B will not work. That is why Plan B is not 100% effective. However most of the time sperm don’t travel at maximum speed, and then in the fallopian tube up to 3 days for an egg to show up. So Plan B can prevent most pregnancies by preventing ovulation, and it can work up to 3 days after sex, although it is less effective the longer you wait. We have pretty good evidence that this is the main way that Plan B prevents pregnancy.

Now the problem is that if you actually believe that a zygote is a person, and you believe that a woman taking an action to prevent that person from attaching to her for life support is murder (even though you could not compel her to donate blood to her newborn infant to save its life), then you don’t care if that is not the main way Plan B prevents pregnancy. You want to know if it ever prevents implantation. And the answer to that is way too complicated to discuss here.

Next he got into the details of the placenta, and showed some slides of placental tissue in uterine tissue. (I’m having trouble with language here. I can’t remember what language Dr. Menton actually used. My husband uses words like “invading”, which sounds terrible. But he is studying oncology, and his interest in the placenta is in how closely it resembles cancer. So when the cancer is described as invading, and the placental tissue is doing the same thing, you use the same words.)

He then stated that he would give the evolutionists everything else if they would just explain how transferrin could have evolved! Because transferrin is necessary to transfer iron across the placental barrier, and without it the fetus could not get iron and would die. So this incredibly complex molecule would have to appear, fully functioning, in a single generation in order for the species to survive.

Transferrin (in receptor)

The answer, of course, is that transferrin did not evolve to transfer iron across the placental barrier. Transferrin evolved long before placental mammals. It is used to regulate iron levels in biological fluids, and is present in pretty much everything with blood. If the protein was designed specifically to transport iron across the placental membrane, you would expect to only see it in placental mammals. In fact it is present across phyla, including in egg laying organisms like fruit flies and fish. And we have examples of less complex versions of transferrin-like proteins which are used for iron uptake from the environment in species like roundworms

The structure of transferrin does not have to be exact for it to bind to iron, in fact the structure varies slightly even within humans. And it varies even more between different organisms, and is more different for more distantly related organisms than for closely related ones. But if you put human transferrin into a fruitfly, it still works. This seems like a rather odd design choice to me. If the similarities between the species are largely explained by God reusing his good designs, why would he make a slightly different iron binding protein for each species when using the same one would have worked? I suppose if none are better than the others then the differences could just be corruptions of the original perfect transferrin design caused by random mutation due to sin. But if they were all originally the same 6000 years ago, why don’t the differences between the kinds vary randomly? Why did human transferrin and mouse transferrin drift in generally the same direction, while fruit flies and fish took a different turn?

Overall the presentation was interesting and almost overwhelmingly detailed (and my husband studies pre-implantation embryology)! But whenever he was making a point he switched to drastic oversimplification. Still, I found it very enjoyable, and I have to support bringing science to an audience that would not otherwise have gone to a science lecture.