Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Chapter 2: Species and Kinds

The Bible teaches creation of different kinds, which are broader than modern 'species'....Biblical creationists have long taught variation and even speciation from these kinds.  From the Ark account, they have long deduced that comparatively few Ark vertebrate kinds gave rise to a wide variety of species (The Greatest Hoax on Earth, page 29).

Creationists have often pointed out that Noah didn't need to take wolves, coyotes, dingoes, Chihuahuas, Great Danes, spaniels, dachshunds, etc. on the Ark, because it was sufficient to take a pair of wolf-like creatures with all the potential for diversifying into different varieties (The Greatest Hoax on Earth, page 47).
The creationist model of rapid diversification and speciation after the Flood is particularly interesting because it contains a partially testable element: the creationist taxonomic system called baraminology (the study of the "created kinds" or "baramins", discussed by Sarfati on page 36).
The Creation Biology Society, an affiliation of biologists and other researchers dedicated to developing a young-age creation model of biological origins, is at the forefront of baraminological research (until 2011 the Society was named the Baraminology Study Group). The Society's members follow the approach set out by Sarfati in the second chapter of The Greatest Hoax on Earth: they assume extremely rapid diversification and speciation within kinds following the Flood but do not believe such change is possible across the boundaries dividing different kinds.
Critics of creationism have conceded that baraminology is surprisingly rigorous and internally consistent.[1]  However, in recent years non-creationist scientists have also used baraminological systems to prove aspects of evolutionary theory. See, for example, Philip Senters work:
Nevertheless, baraminology applies some rigour to the often vague concept of created kinds. As an example, a 2008 paper by Kurt Wise (published by the Baraminology Study Group) applies a baraminology criterion to the fossil record of mammals.[2]  Wise argues most large groups of mammals come from pairs of individuals after the Flood and the fossil record of mammals comes from post-Flood burial events such as those occurring during the Ice Age.[3]  His paper's conclusions include the claim that all elephant-like organisms (proboscideans) in the fossil record (as many as 350 different species) belong to one kind and came from a single pair after the Flood. Wise's remarkable claim echoes an article by Sarfati from 2000 in which he stated: "the entire order Proboscidea probably comprises only one created kind".[4]

Wise and Sarfati's conclusions show the creationist model requires an incredible amount of diversification, beyond the species level, in only 4,500 years (almost a kind of 'hyper-evolution'). This presents a problem to the traditional creationist argument that a greater amount of evolution ("macroevolution") could not have happened over a much longer period of geological time. Creationists are aware of this problem and have re-focused their argument on the claim that any form of evolution ('micro' or 'macro') is unable to increase genetic information. Sarfati adopts this line of argument in The Greatest Hoax on Earth (see pages 43-44).

The claim that evolution cannot increase genetic information presents its own problems. It means God must have endowed the original created kinds with tremendous genetic variation and potential, so that those on the Ark could then produce tens of thousands of new species in less than 4,500 years. However, if the created animals changed at the same rate in the 1,500 years between the Fall and the Flood, the genetic variation would have been sorted into many lineages (species within a kind). This is problematic because if only two animals representing a kind were on the Ark then whichever two were selected would already have some degree of genetic isolation and would thus have less genetic potential than the original created kinds. Therefore something must have stopped natural selection operating in the same way before the Flood, or each of the original created kinds was a genetic super-animal. Any such hypothesis (as is so often the case with these kinds of issues) is of course unfalsifiable.

[1] See for example: Alan Gishlick, 'Baraminology', Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Vol 26, No 4 (2006)
[2] Kurt Wise, 'Baraminology and the Fossil Record of the Mammals', Occasional Papers of the BSG, No 11 (2008), pp 1-11.
[3] According to most creationists, there was only one Ice Age, and it followed the Flood. The majority of fossils of land animals were laid down during this Ice Age. See: John Morris, 'Why Don't We Find More Human Fossils', Institute for Creation Research
[4] Jonathan Sarfati, 'Mammoth - riddle of the Ice Age', Creation, Vol 22, No 2, pp 10-15 (2000)

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Young-Earth Creationism and the Bible

From a Christian perspective, perhaps the key objection to young-Earth creationism is its treatment of the Bible. Among Christians, including those holding to Biblical inerrancy, interpretations of the Bible vary widely. The young-Earth creationist position on the creation narratives in Genesis (that they provide an unambiguous, factual and historical account of events occurring in the past 10,000 years) is only one of many within Christianity. A view more common to mainstream Christianity is expressed well by C S Lewis in his
The earliest stratum of the Old Testament contains many truths in a form which I take to be legendary, or even mythical—hanging in the clouds, but gradually the truth condenses, becomes more and more historical. From things like Noah's Ark or the sun standing still upon Ajalon, you come down to the court memoirs of King David. Finally you reach the New Testament and history reigns supreme, and the Truth is incarnate. And "incarnate" here is more than a metaphor. It is not an accidental resemblance that what, from the point of view of being, is stated in the form "God became Man," should involve, from the point of view of human knowledge, the statement "Myth became Fact."[1]

Some people [assume I believe] that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But this I do not hold, any more than St Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation 'after the manner of a popular poet' (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job was history or fiction....I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of these scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical....I take it that the whole Old Testament consists of the same sort of material as any other literature – chronicle (some of it obviously pretty accurate), poems, moral and political diatribes, romances, and what not; but all taken into the service of God's work....

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not 'the Word of God' in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that Word from it not by using it as an encyclopaedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message.[2] 

Despite this, most organisations promoting young-Earth creationism insist their interpretation of the Bible is the only truly correct one. For example, Creation Ministries International (CMI), Sarfati's employer, labels Christians not holding to young-Earth creationism as "compromisers" and "appeasers".[3]  As well as claiming that the Bible "teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation" and that Noah's flood was an historical and global event, CMI's Statement of Faith asserts that non-Christians are subject to "everlasting conscious punishment", that the Bible should contain 66 books, and that the Bible is the final authority on matters of history and science.[4]  Yet such issues have been contested throughout the history of Christianity and are still debated today.

Young-Earth creationists argue their interpretation of the Bible is flawless, while scientists' interpretations of Creation are seriously flawed. As CMI's Statement of Faith puts it, any evidence contradicting CMI's interpretation of the Bible must be rejected because "evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information".

This raises the obvious question of how CMI can be so sure of its interpretation of the Bible,
when this is also made by "fallible people" with incomplete information. CMI attempts to address this elsewhere in the Statement of Faith: "The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself", but that is circular reasoning. If scriptural interpretation were as simple as CMI implies then all Bible-believing Christians would interpret the creation narratives the same way.


[1] C S Lewis, 'Is Theology Poetry?', in The Weight of Glory and Other Essays, New York: Harper Collins (2001, first published 1949), p 129.
[2] C S Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, Glasgow: Fount (1998, first published 1958), pp 94-97.
[3] See, for example: 'Can compromisers really be saved' (29 January 2011); Jonathan Sarfati, 'Response to the evolution appeasers', (24 October 2008)

Monday, 5 August 2013

Credit where credit's due

I recommend the following blogs, which I found particularly helpful when researching aspects of The Greatest Hoax on Earth:

Todd's Blog
by Todd Wood (President of Core Academy of Science and formerly Associate Professor of Science at Bryan College)
By far the best creationist blog I've come across.

Naturalis Historia
by Joel Duff (Professor of Biology at the University of Akron)
Writings about science and Christianity, including some great entries on creationism.
Letters to Creationists
by Scott Buchanan (a chemical engineer)
Features a series of long letters addressing many of the same issues raised in The Greatest Hoax on Earth.
Eye on the ICR
by an undergraduate student named Peter (!)
An entertaining refutation of everything produced by the Institute for Creation Research (a rather strange undertaking, but I'm in no position to judge given I've started a blog just to comment on a relatively obscure creationist book published back in 2010...).
by Paul Zachary "PZ" Myers (Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota Morris)
A blog about evolution, which often discusses creationism (unfortunately in a rather strident manner).
The Panda's Thumb
A blog about evolution, which features pieces from various scientists (this one also tends towards stridency).
by James Hannam (author of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science) and others
Entries range across religion, science and history, including some on evolution and creationism

And the customer reviews of The Greatest Hoax on Earth on Amazon are also an occasionally useful place to obtain information on the issues raised in the book:
Interestingly, Sarfati himself appears to comment on some of the reviews:

Sunday, 4 August 2013

My review of The Greatest Hoax on Earth

My review of Jonathan Sarfati's The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution

This review provides an overview of The Greatest Hoax on Earth.  While much of the book seems convincing at first glance, after investigating the literature I found problems with how it represents many issues.  As my comments on those issues are too extensive to fit into this overview, I intend to post them separately on this blog.

One problem with The Greatest Hoax on Earth is that it is captive to Creation Ministries International (CMI).  Sarfati works for CMI.  CMI owns and operates the book's publisher, Creation Book Publishers.  (Thus The Greatest Hoax on Earth is essentially a self-published book.)  The book's foreword is by David Catchpoole, an employee of CMI.  The individuals with impressive credentials who praise the book on its back cover are either employed by CMI or contribute to its publications.  Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth would not have been taken as seriously had it been published through the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, with a foreword by one of the Foundation's trustees and endorsements from scientists who write for the Foundation's website.

An independent publisher would have run a more critical eye over the references Sarfati cites to support his arguments: a large proportion of these are from CMI's website ( and its publications (the magazine Creation and the Journal of Creation).  No doubt the prevalence of CMI material is partly due to financial self-interest and the often bitter divisions between creationist organisations [footnote 1].  Nevertheless, Sarfati could have better reflected the diversity of views within the young-Earth creationist movement (let alone the views of old-Earth creationists and various intelligent design advocates, who also offer criticisms of evolution).  In his book I found only three citations of the Creation Research Society Quarterly and none of the Answers Research Journal, the Journal of Creation Theology and Science, Origins, or the Occasional Papers of the BSG.  Apart from Origins, all these journals subscribe to young-Earth creationism.

Perhaps Sarfati is unwilling to expose his readers to uncertainty or conflicting views within young-Earth creationism.  For example, his discussion of tree-ring dating (pages 196-198) is based on an article from CMI's website, which misleadingly compares the Bristlecone Pine with the markedly different Monterey Pine (which is fast-growing, lives in a different environment and is known to produce multiple rings per growing season) to suggest the Bristlecone Pine could produce up to five growth rings per year.[2]  In comparison, an article on the Answers in Genesis website admits there is no good evidence that Bristlecone Pines can produce multiple rings per growing season.[3]  The Answers in Genesis article presents some hypotheses to reconcile the Bristlecone chronology with 'Biblical' chronology, but admits more work needs to be done.

Sarfati also misuses non-creationist references.  One way he does this is by selectively withholding information from his reader (on pages 123-5 he cites numerous papers to support his comments on the avian features of Archaeopteryx, but fails to cite any of the equally extensive literature demonstrating the reptilian features of Archaeopteryx).  At other times he misrepresents the views of academics or quotes them out context (see his discussion of australopithecines on pages 156-7, his use of Alexey Kondrashov on page 57, or his quoting of Colin Patterson on page 106).

Notwithstanding the problems with references in The Greatest Hoax on Earth, how do Sarfati's arguments stand up?  He makes some good points.  These range from identifying Dawkins' basic errors (his descriptions of carbon-13 and Galapagos iguanas) to pointing out his disingenuousness (such as Dawkins' attempt to side with religious figures sympathetic to evolution when he attacked any form of religious belief in his previous book, The God Delusion[/i]).

Sarfati also points out Dawkins' inaccurate caricaturing of creationists' views and his incorrect assumption that creationists must deny anything accepted by evolutionists.  Indeed, parts of The Greatest Hoax on Earth reinforce how much creationists and evolutionists have in common.  For example, the book's second and third chapters show how creationists accept aspects of natural selection, mutations, and speciation.  These concessions are necessary to allow the finite number of animals on Noah's Ark to evolve (within their "created kinds") into tens of thousands of new species in less than 4,500 years.

Unfortunately Sarfati also makes his own incorrect assumptions.  He seems to claim that any unexplained aspect of nature – such as the origins of the toucan's beak (page 74) – automatically supports the creationist view and discredits evolution.  This is little better than a 'God of the gaps' argument.  He also seizes on disagreement among evolutionists, or examples of evolutionists changing their conclusions in the face of new evidence, to suggest the general theory of evolution is ineffectual as an explanatory model (see, for example, chapters eight and nine).  Yet opposing views and changing hypotheses should be part of any scientific approach.

The Greatest Hoax on Earth is inevitably a negative book as its purpose is to refute Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth.  This defensive style of argument is Sarfati's specialty (three of his four other books are refutations of other people's writings).  Ultimately, to present the theory of creationism as a rival to the theory of evolution, creationists need to show it can stand on its own – that it generates genuine research, holds up to rigorous criticism and produces testable models.  Contrary to what some creationists claim, the vast majority of scientists favour evolution not because they are blinded to the truth but because they think evolution enjoys greater explanatory power than creationism.  As prominent young-Earth creationist Todd Wood has commented:

There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion.  It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution.  There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory.  It works, and it works well.
I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution.  I say these things because they are true....Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory.  That doesn't make it ultimately true, and it doesn't mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives.  It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution.  I am motivated to understand God's creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective.  Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence.[3]

With their all-or-nothing approach, Dawkins and Sarfati are as bad as each other.  Dawkins’ strident promotion of atheism (which he toned down in The Greatest Show on Earth) and evolution plays into Sarfati's hands.  Sarfati links the two, claiming the logical result of evolutionary theory is atheism and thus creationism is what any 'true' Christian should believe.  This may persuade some to overlook the numerous theological and scientific problems with young-Earth creationism.  However, like Dawkins' attack on religion in The God Delusion, I found Sarfati's refutation of evolution in The Greatest Hoax on Earth unconvincing.


[1] Sarfati's book noticeably contains no references to any work by the largest young-Earth creationist organisation, Answers in Genesis, which had a major falling out with CMI between 2005 and 2009.  Answers in Genesis enjoyed a 68.2 percent share of the creationist market in the United States in 2008, compared to 0.9 percent for CMI. See:  

[2] Don Batten, 'Tree ring dating (dendrochronology)'; for a thorough critique of Batten’s article see: 

[3] John Woodmorappe, 'Biblical Chronology and the 8,000-Year-Long Bristlecone Pine Tree-Ring Chronology' (2009)

[4] Todd Wood, 'The truth about evolution' (2009)

Saturday, 3 August 2013

By way of introduction

What’s the point of this blog?
I've started this blog to share in a public forum some of the problems I've found with Jonathan Sarfati's The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on EvolutionBy extension, I hope to show:
  • evolution is a better explanatory theory than young-Earth creationism
  • evolution and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. 
I have a relative who believes in young-Earth creationism, particularly the version promoted by Creation Ministries International (Sarfati's employer and the publisher of this book).  Last year this relative gave me a copy of The Greatest Hoax on Earth (in previous conversations with my relative I'd expressed sympathy for evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth).
On skimming through The Greatest Hoax on Earth I was impressed at its apparent demolition of Dawkins-ian evolution.  However, I also noticed sections seemingly heavy on rhetoric and light on references.  I decided to investigate the book and its references further.  In doing so, I’ve found problems with the book and also uncovered better (in my view) explanations for some of the issues it discusses.  
So this blog is the end result of my attempts to get my head around some of the topics in the debate between evolution and creationism.  I thought it’d be useful to share what I’ve found, in case anyone else out there has been gifted a copy of The Greatest Hoax on Earth and wants to know more.
Who am I?
I am no one in particular and I prefer to remain anonymous. 

I didn’t study science beyond high school.  I have no formal theological training.  This means I’m probably the ideal target for a popular ('popular' in the sense of non-specialist) book such as Sarfati’s The Greatest Hoax on Earth (or, indeed, Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution).

Yet I’m no half-wit.  I’ve done enough academic study at postgraduate level (mostly in the field of history) to know how to spot a misleading argument or a poor use of references. 
I’m a Christian, though clearly not of the young-Earth creationist kind.  I’m no fan of Dawkins (though I think he writes well) and I find his persistent attacks on religion unconvincing and rather wearying.