Quantum Theology and Schrödinger’s Dinosaur

In her inimitable style Archdruid Eileen speculates about Quantum Apples, Cider and the Creation of the Universe. She suggests that when Adam ate the apple the universe underwent a quantum change from the state imagined by young earth creationists to the one currently described by mainstream scientists. So let’s blame apples and drink cider!

Meanwhile Joel Watts sees quantum physics in another area of theology when, in his concluding thoughts on the Jesus Criteria Conference, he writes:

This is the quantum superposition of Church and Academy, and I must report, Schrödinger’s cat is seen.

If this famous feline is being observed, surely the waveform superposition is collapsing, which means that Joel and every other thinking Christian is being forced into either Church or Academy. Or maybe not, as the latest scientific results suggest that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is uncertain. So perhaps we can observe the cat without killing or saving it, or have our cake and eat it. But then long before Schrödinger an even wiser man pointed out that no one can serve two masters.

Dead DinosaurMeanwhile, it seems, the leader of the Beaker Folk has managed to imagine a quantum superposition of a Ken Ham-style 4000-year-old universe and a billions of years old big bang one. But the box has been opened, the waveform has collapsed, and it turns out that Schrödinger’s dinosaur died millions of years ago, when quantum fluctuations in the orbit of a stray asteroid caused it to collide with the Earth.

On which day did God create turkeys?

This evening’s pre-Christmas Carol Service at Meadgate Church, Great Baddow featured brilliant imaginative re-tellings of Bible stories, starting with Genesis 1 and continuing through the traditional Christmas passages to the end of Revelation.

A male wild turkeyOne small feature of the first reading caught my attention. The fifth day of creation was illustrated by a vivid description of the sounds made by birds created then. But “gobbling”, presumably intended to be the sound of newly created turkeys, was among the sounds heard on the sixth day.

So on which day of creation did God create turkeys, and other flightless birds? Was it on the fifth day, along with “every winged bird” (Genesis 1:21), or on the sixth day, along with “the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals” (1:24, NIV)?

Well, turkeys have wings, so it sounds as if they should be included in day 5. But God’s purpose on that day was to “let birds fly above the earth” (1:20), which turkeys don’t do, and on day 6 it was to fill the earth with land creatures (1:24), which include turkeys.

No doubt evolutionary biologists will say that flightless turkeys are descended from birds which could fly, and so should be classified among the day 5 creations – although of course those biologists could accept the six days of creation only as symbolic. But the ancient Hebrews who wrote Genesis did not use modern biological classifications.

The issue becomes even more complicated with geese. Our modern western domesticated geese cannot fly, but they have been bred by humans, over perhaps the past 4000 years, from wild greylag geese which can fly. So I suppose they were created on the fifth day.

Perhaps the real point here is that the we should not press the distinctions which the biblical authors made, or to take them as literal chronology. The authors probably weren’t interested so much in telling exactly where turkeys fitted into their time line as in telling a beautiful poetic story. This evening’s imaginative re-telling may have come close to that original purpose – and by questioning its details, as I am in this post, I am, I suppose, guilty of ruining poetry.

But for turkeys, and geese, perhaps the more pressing issue just at the moment is not the day of their beginning but whether their end will come on the fifth or sixth day of this coming week.

Life and Death, Physical and Spiritual

One of the arguments against evolution commonly used by young earth creationists concerns animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. The established science of evolution clearly implies that animals died long before humans came on the scene. After all, carnivorous animals evolved to eat other animals. And what are fossils except the remains of dead animals, and sometimes plants? However, as former creationist Phill Sacre writes,

One of the Creationist doctrines is that there was no death before the fall. No animals or humans died before mankind sinned, and God instituted his curse.

Michael RamsdenBut what is the basis of this doctrine? Does it have any foundation in biblical teaching? Sadly, first we need to clear away some misinformation which has been put around. BioLogos is a usually excellent group which “explores, promotes, and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith”, and takes a clear stand against the anti-scientific approach of many creationists. So it was a surprise to read a recent post at The BioLogos Forum Life and Death in which Oxford-based lecturer in Christian Apologetics Michael Ramsden says the following, in a video with a transcript, when he really should know better:

In the New Testament we find when we talk about life, we have the idea of living or ‘bios’. In other words, we talk about how we are alive. But Jesus talks about the fact of “coming to life “ when we know him. That doesn’t suddenly mean that our heart starts beating. It means that there is this whole side to us which was dead… which wasn’t alive and is now… that has actually sprung to life.

(I twice tried to comment on this BioLogos post, but my comments disappeared, and even their moderators cannot find them.)

Well, either Ramsden doesn’t know his Greek, in which case he shouldn’t quote Greek words, or he is deliberately misrepresenting it. The word he quotes, bios, has nothing to do with “coming to life” when we know Jesus.

In the New Testament there are two main Greek word groups used for the concepts of “life” and “live”. There are also some words, mostly derived from oikos “house”, used for “live” in the sense of “dwell”. By far the more common of the main word groups consists of the noun zōē “life”, the verb zaō “to live”, and a few cognate words, together found over 300 times in the New Testament. The less common group, consisting of bios and its cognates, is found only 15 times.

The bios word group has a very specific meaning, at least in the New Testament. These words are used only for physical earthly life and lifestyle, and for the physical resources needed to live this life. Typical examples are Luke 8:14 and 21:4. They are never used in any relation to non-material or spiritual aspects of life, and certainly never for the new life which Jesus gives.

By contrast, the zōē/zaō word group, although sometimes used for physical and earthly aspects of life, is most commonly used for the life of God, in himself and in his people. Interestingly, this word group is never used for animal life, except for the beasts of Revelation which are only symbolically animals.

This suggests a clear distinction in biblical teaching between two different kinds of life – and by implication two different kinds of death, although there are no separate Greek words for them. The first kind of life, often described by bios, is purely physical and earthly, and ends in physical death, the first kind of death. This kind of life and death is shared by humans and animals. The second kind of life, for which zōē/zaō is always used, is spiritual and heavenly, is shared by humans and God, and doesn’t usually end in death.

This distinction can help to explain many of the details of the Genesis account (although zōē/zaō words are used for animals in the LXX Greek translation of Genesis). We read that

the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7 (NIV)

Thus the first human being is distinguished from the animals by “the breath of life”. God also tells this first man

you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.

Genesis 2:17 (NIV)

But when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit their physical life did not come to an end. In fact Adam lived at least 800 more years (Genesis 4:4). How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? The point is surely that at that moment the first couple lost their spiritual and eternal life, and became merely mortal, like animals. For the first time they are forbidden access to the tree of life by which they could live for ever (Genesis 3:22). For the first and last time people who had been truly alive spiritually died. Their descendants, although made in the image of God, were not born with this spiritual life. The only exception was Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who was born with physical and spiritual life, died spiritually as well as physically on the cross, and was raised again to new physical and spiritual life. And he made it possible for us to be born again with spiritual life.

Adam and Eve lost their spiritual life but continued to live physically. As Christians we have regained the spiritual life which they lost. If Jesus doesn’t come again first, we will die physically, but we will never lose our spiritual life, and at some time we too will be raised to new physical life.

The implication of this is that only this zōē life has any spiritual significance. The bios life of animals, and of humans without Christ, has no true meaning, although it sometimes functions as a symbol of spiritual life. For people without zōē life, human physical death, the end of bios life, is the ultimate tragedy, the ultimate evil. Increasingly animal death is also considered evil. But in God’s scheme of things this physical death is not an evil, not a result of sin, but simply what is natural in the world.

So there is no reason to deny death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. For hundreds of millions of years, according to the evidence from fossils, animals have lived and died. But this is nothing to do with sin or evil. The creationist doctrine about this has no proper theological basis, and so offers no reason to reject the consensus of scientists about the past of our planet.

The prophesied time will indeed come when

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox …

Isaiah 65:25 (NIV)

Maybe this will be true of literal animals at some future time. But its main significance is surely not to do with carnivores changing their diets, but that there will be an end to human conflict in the everlasting kingdom of the Prince of Peace.

The Atheists' Anti-Evolution Conspiracy?

Conspiracy theoriesJames McGrath suggests that

anti-evolutionism is the result of atheist scientists infiltrating Christian circles, and offering lame and unpersuasive criticisms of mainstream science in order to discredit Christianity and hinder the spread of the Gospel.

Or maybe that isn’t what he means. Anyway, his post about fun with conspiracy theories is amusing and well worth a read.

God is not the Great Deceiver

A supernova remnant in the constellation OphiuchusJames McGrath links to a post by David H. Bailey Supernovas and “God the Great Deceiver” theology. In this post Bailey explores some of the apparent implications of the Young Earth Creationist position, that the universe was created only about 6,000 years ago – or in some variants up to 20,000 years ago. Bailey notes that astronomers regularly observe events, supernova explosions, from at least 200,000 light years away in other galaxies, and so, according to orthodox science, which took place at least 200,000 years ago.

The creationist Henry Morris, as quoted by Bailey, explained this apparent discrepancy as follows:

[T]he light rays … must have been created carrying information descriptive of historical physical events (such as super novae) which never actually occurred, because we would now be observing light rays which were created in transit and never were radiated from the stars which they seem to image.

In other words, God created the universe with an appearance of age. Francis Schaeffer tried to rationalise this version of events:

There is a possibility that God created a ‘grown-up’ universe. For example, Adam, the first night he existed, might have seen the light of the furthest stars without waiting for long light years to pass before they could be seen.

To this possibility, we must quickly add one note. This does not mean that God is capricious. And surely it does not imply, and I would totally reject, the concept Bishop Samuel Wilberforce suggested at Oxford in Darwin’s time: that God created fossils in the earth in order to fool fools. This is totally out of character with the God of the Bible.

However, just because it was stated so horribly in the days of Darwin is no reason not to suggest that God may have in some sense and in some areas created a grown-up universe. One could ask, for example, whether the trees when they were created had rings.

Well, Schaeffer has a point, but why would God create starlight as evidence of past events which never actually occurred, unless it was something like “in order to fool fools”? The Psalmist wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1 NIV), but is what they declare in fact deception by God? As Bailey puts it,

to anyone outside the world of hard-core creationists, this type of “God the Great Deceiver” theology, namely the notion that God deliberately constructed a phony universe to mislead diligent seekers of truth in the 21st century, is not only absurd but downright blasphemous. It is utterly at odds with the notion of a rational, comprehensible God that has been the mainstay of Judeo-Christian theology for several millennia. Indeed, such a being would be utterly unworthy of our reverence or obedience.

In fact even young earth creationists have realised the force of this argument and tried to find ways around it. A reader of this blog regularly refers me to articles from Creation Ministries International. So I went to their site for material about this issue, and found an interesting 2003 article A new cosmology: solution to the starlight travel time problem by John G. Hartnett. Hartnett, a believer in a creation about 6,000 years ago, looks at five possible solutions to the problem. Only one of these is that God created the light from events that did not actually happen, and he clearly rejects this:

I don’t believe God commits fraud. Creating a beam of light from source to observer so that the observer appears to see current information must also mean there is a whole stream of information in the beam that is false.

The problem is that three of his other solutions, that the speed of light was enormously faster in the past or that clocks on earth and elsewhere in the universe run at vastly different speeds, seem totally implausible to someone like me who has studied physics to a high level. And the remaining solution is to concede that the universe is ancient and only the earth was recently created.

Hartnett’s own preference is for a solution in which for the first few “days” of creation clocks on earth, and maybe in the whole solar system, ran ten trillion times slower than clocks elsewhere in the universe. Thus each “day” of creation, as measured on earth where there were in fact no observers other than God, corresponds to ten trillion astronomical days. This sounds to me very like an attempt to present “day-age” type old earth creationism in young earth creationist language.

So, it seems that at least some young earth creationists agree with Bailey that God is not the Great Deceiver. But they have yet to come up with even slightly convincing explanations of how the light from distant supernovas could have reached us in 6,000 years of real time.

The Free Will Theorem: room for God to work in nature

Eric McLellan asks, in a guest post at Kurt Willems’ Pangea Blog, What does science tell us about our soul? He writes:

the study of quantum mechanics has … led John Conway and Simon Kochen to develop what they call the Free Will Theorem. Assuming three axioms … The Free Will Theorem is a proof that states, in simple terms, that if human individuals have free will, then individual subatomic particles also have free will. Particles donʼt make conscious decisions, but they exhibit a quantum measure of choice. … The nature of the choice made by these particles is not a masked randomness but is actually the result of a subatomic free will.

This has some profound implications, according to McLellan.

Soul and BodyThe first set of implications, for “theological anthropology”, is that the soul, the part of the person which exercises free will, cannot be separated from the material body:

the aspects of the mind often attributed to the soul is actually an extension of the material body. Mind and body become one while the soul must represent a higher faculty which relates to God and is brought to life in conversion.

A second set of implications is for God’s work in nature. The Free Will Theorem undermines the presupposition that

in order for God to actively will a change in the universe, He must then break the laws of nature.

The theorem implies that

the uncertainty of quantum mechanics leaves room for Godʼs work in natural processes. … The choice made by individual particles could just as easily be Godʼs choice. God has the freedom to sovereignly rule over the universe without ever breaking the laws of nature.

This ties up well with what I was hinting at at the end of my previous post today, Can “creation science” prove evolution?, when I suggested that evolution “was designed by God to carry out his purposes”. According to “intelligent design”, which I reject, God has intervened repeatedly over billions of years, breaking the laws of nature, to create new species. But according to the better versions of “theistic evolution”, which I accept, God has caused new species to come into being while “sovereignly rul[ing] over the universe without ever breaking the laws of nature”.

Now I would have serious reservations about allowing a scientific result like the Free Will Theorem to control my theology. There are also some debatable axioms or presuppositions behind the theorem. But I find the theological implications here to be attractive. This is certainly a refreshing change from the arguments of atheists and materialists claiming that science has proved that nothing is real but the material world – arguments which have largely been invalidated by the last century of physical science. The Free Will Theorem deserves serious further consideration by Christian scholars.

Can "creation science" prove evolution?

Matt Walker of BBC Nature has written an interesting article on his Wonder Monkey blog Can religious teachings prove evolution to be true? He reports on how a mainstream scientist has used a technique from “creation science” to show that different types of dinosaurs evolved from one another, rather than being created separately.

Much of so-called “creation science” is bad science. This is not only because of the ways its advocates have often selected evidence and given improbable explanations of it, while ignoring good alternative explanations from reputable scientists. The fundamental philosophy of “creation science” is also unscientific, because its intention is to support a pre-existent theory rather than to determine the truth in a theory-neutral way. Now it is not just “creation science” which is guilty here, but others being guilty does not make one innocent.

Walker, however, reports on how one particular “creation science” technique, called “baraminology”, does seem to be a valid method, and has been used by biologist Phil Senter to examine variations among dinosaurs.

Walker explains (otherwise I know little about this subject) that creationists have used baraminology to conclude that all cats, including lions, tigers and domestic cats, have a common ancestor and so form one “kind” in the biblical sense (Genesis 1:11-12,21,24-25, 6:20 etc). However, this technique shows that there is insufficient evidence, in the form of “missing link” type fossils, of a common ancestor of dogs and cats, suggesting that dogs form a separate “kind”.

Bird-hipped dinosaurs Dr Senter has applied this technique to fossil dinosaurs and concluded that, even by the strict standards accepted by “creation scientists”, there is sufficient evidence that several apparently very different groups of dinosaurs have a common ancestor and form one “kind”.

The problem for creationists is the great diversity of dinosaurs within this “kind”. Their own technique has been used to provide evidence not just of the kind of micro-evolution or selective breeding which could have caused the observed diversity among cats, but also of large scale evolutionary changes from one species of dinosaur to another. A further difficulty for young earth creationists is that they would have to conclude that

in just a few thousand years, each “kind” of dinosaur begat the huge variation in fossils we see today.

It is reminiscent of evolution, just even faster paced.

Dr Senter points out that creationists’ room for manoeuvre, when citing the evidence, continues to diminish.

Walker concludes:

[Dr Senter’s] work, and my reporting of it, will hopefully take the discussion forward about what evidence is gathered and how, and what that evidence tells us.

So let the discussion evolve.

Will any creationists consider the idea that even some of their own evidence-gathering techniques may point to the veracity of evolution?

Indeed. Let the discussion evolve, or be created, here.

But it is sad that Walker also presents the issue, at the start of his article, as

Did God or evolution drive the emergence of life in all its resplendent variety?

That is the wrong question. Biologists may be able to prove that different species have evolved from common ancestors. But they cannot hope to decide by scientific arguments whether this evolutionary process was a product of blind chance or was designed by God to carry out his purposes.

Noah's flood came from Canada – British scientists

Was Noah’s flood caused by the sudden emptying of a huge glacial lake in Canada, which led to a catastrophic rise in sea level? This was suggested in a 2007 press release from the University of Exeter here in England, quoting one of the university’s professors, with the title ‘Noah’s flood’ kick-started European farming. The same material was also published by ScienceDaily, but with a question mark added to the title.

This press release is about a proper scientific paper published in a respected journal. It must be rare for such papers to mention biblical stories. No creationist pseudo-science is in sight.

I came across this paper while researching for a discussion on Facebook about my recent post Instone-Brewer: Did Noah’s Ark actually happen? One of my friends in that discussion suggested that a flood caused by rivers would not last as long as the biblical flood is said to have lasted. In response I looked into the possibility that the flood could have been caused by a sudden rise in sea level – and found that the Exeter scientists had got there before me.

Lake AgassizThe culprit, apparently, was Lake Agassiz, a huge prehistoric body of fresh water which covered a large part of what is now Canada and a smaller part of the northern USA, centred in what is now Manitoba. This lake, according to Wikipedia, “held more water than contained by all lakes in the world today”. Its waters were dammed up by the Arctic ice sheet.

As that ice sheet gradually melted at the end of the last major ice age, on at least two occasions the water from Lake Agassiz escaped rather suddenly into the oceans. The first event, around 11,000 BC, is thought to have triggered off a thousand year mini-ice age called the Younger Dryas. Presumably this freeze caused the lake to form again. But renewed warming caused the water from Lake Agassiz and from the linked Lake Ojibway to the east to escape again around 6,400 BC. Again this led to a cold period, but not as long or severe as the Younger Dryas. Since then, it seems, the large glacial lakes have never formed again, although some remnants remain as modern lakes.

The important point concerning Noah’s flood is the rather obvious one that the release of all that water into the oceans caused a significant rise in sea levels worldwide – and one which has never been reversed. Estimates of what Wikipedia calls a “near-instantaneous rise” range up to 4 metres, although the Exeter paper gives a more conservative figure of 1.4 metres.

This rise in sea level would not of course have covered “all the high mountains under the entire heavens”, as recorded in Genesis 7:19 taken literally. But it may have caused especially catastrophic flooding in the Black Sea region. The Exeter paper links this with Noah’s flood. But I would look elsewhere, as David Instone-Brewer does, to low-lying Mesopotamia. What would the effect of the sea level rise have been there?

Now “near-instantaneous rise” should not be taken as implying something like a tsunami. Probably the sea did not spill on to the land in the way seen in recent videos from Japan. But once Lake Agassiz started to break through the ice it could quickly have carved out a very wide channel, and so need not have taken many years to drain. Scientific papers mentioning a period of 200 years are probably only giving a maximum time. There is no reason to doubt the biblical account that the waters rose for forty days (Genesis 7:17), although this is probably to be understood as a round number rather than a precise figure.

The account in Genesis also mentions both that “all the springs of the great deep burst forth” (7:11), a good poetic fit for the bursting of a glacial lake, and that there were forty days of rain (7:12), perhaps caused by the initial disturbance of weather patterns by the rush of fresh water into the oceans – although the following cold spell was generally also dry.

Thus floodwaters flowing down the rivers into Mesopotamia would have met sea water flowing up them. No doubt channels would have become blocked with sand and silt, and a huge low-lying area would have been flooded with nowhere for the water to drain away. The recent Mississippi floods give an idea of how this event might have looked, but there would have been no artificial levees to contain the flooding and no floodways to channel it into the sea. Indeed probably quite a lot of land was permanently lost to the Persian Gulf. But further upstream the floods eventually retreated, but only after 150 days (7:24).

So, I would continue to argue as I did in my previous post, the biblical account if understood as intended, and not as a detailed record of events, tells a realistic story of a huge regional flood which could have happened, which indeed scientists also tell us actually did happen. There is no scientific record of the actual ark, but then one would not expect that. But science agrees with the Bible story in saying that a flood did happen – and adds some interesting details such as that it had its origin in Canada.

Instone-Brewer: Did Noah’s Ark actually happen?

Dr David Instone-BrewerAs part of a series “Embarrassing Bible Texts?” in Christianity magazine, David Instone-Brewer, of Tyndale House, Cambridge, asks, Did Noah’s Ark actually happen? Were six million land species really rescued in one boat? He concludes that there was a real flood, and a real ark in which “the precious animal stock – specially bred by generations of farmers” was rescued, but that this flood was not worldwide. Neither is he is quite saying that it was a local flood. Rather he links this with a flood attested by proper scientific observation:

Archaeologists in the 1930s found evidence of an amazingly widespread flood (or floods) which covered the whole plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – an area of 140,000 square miles – before 3000 BC. This wasn’t just a shallow flood; even the silt they found deposited by this water was eight feet deep! The whole country is flat, with just a few small hills, so this flood would have been utterly devastating; there is simply no high ground to run to for hundreds of miles. The area was the homeland of the ancient Middle Eastern world and the whole population living there must have been wiped out by this flood. It was a disaster on a scale never seen anywhere in the modern world.

So how can we reconcile this with the Bible passages which appear to teach a worldwide flood:

The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.

Genesis 7:18-20 (NIV 2011)

Instone-Brewer is certainly correct to point out that the Hebrew word eretz, here translated “earth”, can also mean “land”, as in eretz Yisrael which is the normal Hebrew for “the land of Israel”.

More problematic is the phrase “all the high mountains under the entire heavens”. Yes, the Hebrew for “mountain”, har, can also refer to quite a small hill, as in 1 Samuel 26:13. And perhaps “under heaven” can mean within the visible horizon, as Instone-Brewer suggests from Deuteronomy 2:25. But it seems unlikely that “all the high mountains” and “the entire heavens” can be understood in this way.

So how should we understand passages like this? Instone-Brewer seems to treat the Genesis story as a literal account of historical events, and then tries to argue that those historical events did not happen as commonly understood. I don’t think that quite works. It seems to me that if the account is literal, it is about a worldwide flood – one which scientists tell us could never have happened.

However, we need to consider what the authors’ intentions were in writing the accounts in the early part of Genesis, about the creation and the fall as well as the flood. They were not writing scientific papers but stories. And these stories are intended not so much to tell the past as to teach God’s ways – in the case of the flood story, as Instone-Brewer writes,

the message that God hates evil and is willing to take drastic steps to deal with it.

Didactic stories the world over use figures of speech such as hyperbole for dramatic effect. So it would hardly be surprising to find hyperbole in an account like that of the flood. A clear candidate for this kind of hyperbole is Genesis 7:19 quoted above, which turns a flood covering small hills in a local area into a worldwide one reaching above Himalayan peaks.

One might ask, how can one tell which statements in the Bible are hyperbolic, and so can be ignored as unhistorical? But that is the wrong question. If the story is not intended to teach history, one cannot expect to get any reliable historical information from it. That may be frustrating for modern scholars, but it is true. If one wants to know what happened in the past, didactic stories from the Bible or elsewhere may give useful indications, but they can never give the kind of reliable details one might obtain from inscriptions or archives intended as records of events.

In my recent post Harold Camping: once Reformed, now a heretic I suggested that that infamous preacher of the Rapture might have been led astray by his engineering background into

taking Bible verses out of context and reading into them a meaning that their authors and God never intended.

I also suggested that this approach might be typical of creationists. This is seen also in the reading of the Noah’s Ark story as an engineer’s literal report of the height of the water. I suggested in a Facebook comment on the Camping post that

engineers, and physical scientists like myself, tend to be rather literal minded and so to prefer a more fundamentalist approach to the Bible, whereas those trained in the humanities tend to be more liberal theologically.

Well, in this case “those trained in the humanities” (and I am also that) are likely to be better qualified than engineers to understand the implications of the literary genre of the text. If their conclusions seem liberal rather fundamentalist, that doesn’t make them less valid.

Natural selection not the only means: scientific paper

Some proteins have remained largely unchanged since they first appearedAccording to a new study,

natural selection may not be the only means by which higher organisms came into being.

No, this is not the latest anti-scientific rant from a creationist group, but a serious study published in Nature and reported by the BBC, under the title Protein flaws responsible for complex life, study says. The point is apparently that, at least as one group of scientists concludes, higher animals did not emerge from simple single-celled ones by Darwinian natural selection based on the survival of the fittest:

The authors stress that they are not arguing against natural selection as a process; they say rather that it can be aided by “non-adaptive” mechanisms.

“There’s been this general feeling that complexity is a good thing and evolves for complexity’s sake – that it’s adaptive,” Professor Lynch told BBC News.

“We’ve opened up the idea that the roots of complexity don’t have to reside in purely adaptational arguments.

“It’s opening up a new evolutionary pathway that didn’t exist before.”

Now this is certainly not rejection of evolution as a process. But it does suggest that the classical Darwinist explanations of it, as taught in schools and ridiculed by creationists, are not the whole story. As another professor told the BBC,

“We tend to marvel at the Darwinian perfection of organisms now, saying ‘this must have been highly selected for, it’s a tuned and sophisticated machine’.

“In fact, it’s a mess – there’s so much unnecessary complexity.”