This is our second analysis of a sermon given by Professor Norman Nevin OBE, who is named by the Centre for Intelligent Design in Glasgow as it’s president.
First a little background. “Intelligent Design” was invented in the US in the last decade or so to try to get creationism into publicly funded schools, where it is prohibited by the US constitution simply because it is religious. The creationists decided to evolve their approach and so changed the name and dropped any direct reference to god, replacing the word god with the phrase “intelligent designer”.
The UK government has no such constitutional reason for stating that ID can’t go into schools as science, instead they confirm that it can’t be taught in school science lessons simply because it isn’t science.
This is an analysis of a sermon in a church and so it would be inappropriate to analyse anything other than the scientific claims made, so we haven’t.
On the other hand we are sure that Professor Nevin would not claim any lower standard of care or respect for the truth in a church compared to a classroom. We would certainly agree that truthfulness and accuracy are vital when talking about science whether your audience are sitting in a church or a classroom. So let’s look at the scientific claims he makes and see if they hold any water.
Whilst we won’t analyse some of the theological claims we will document them here.
BTW you can download the mp3 for yourself, if you have 45 mins to spare, from here.
Alternatively our transcription of the sermon (a little rough and ready in places) is here and takes perhaps 5 mins to read.
The first sermon we analysed can be found here.
OK let’s start with a deep breath and an open mind. Let’s simply assess the scientific claims on their own merit. Quotations from Nevin are in italics.
“Was Adam a historical figure or was Adam a myth or a legend? What I want to try and show this evening, was that Adam was historical figure.”
“[…] quotation from proverbs, “Every word of god is flawless, do not add to it.” Now Adam is a real historical person, the New Testament endorses the accuracy of Genesis both directly and indirectly over 200 times. Genesis chapter 1 to 11 which indeed many, many Darwinists and evolutionists say is myth or legend, I believe it is historical and it is cited 107 times in the new testament and Jesus refers himself, to the early chapters in genesis at least 25 times.”
“Now lets just look at the evidence we have that Adam was a real person.”
OK, he is pretty clear here. A fundamentalist (in fact this is the precise usage that the word “fundamentalist” referred to when it was first coined) view that because something is written in the bible it is true, because elsewhere in the bible it says that everything in the bible is true.
The obvious circular logic can be easily avoided by a simple denial of all other evidence to the contrary and normally involves a sincere belief that almost everyone else on the planet is conspiring against your view.
Most Christians and Christian churches don’t share this view. It also leaves them open to easy and simple criticisms based on the bible itself e.g. contradictions seen in the bible. The mainstream faiths are therefore happy to take a more considered view that the bible is inspired by god but written by human beings, that are prone to err.
Nevin himself will address some of the evidence for the evolution of man later on. I use the word “address” in the sense of “making up a weird straw-man version of it” and then ignoring it anyway.
Now I’m not sure if this next one is a scientific claim or a theological claim but it is at the very least a claim of evidence so let’s have a quick look at it;
“We have three genealogies, Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles and Luke and each of those 3 genealogies trace back to the first parent, Adam. Now when you examine genealogies and the word of god, yes there are occasions where you find names that are omitted but you never in any of the genealogies find in fact that someone who is considered a myth is inserted into a genealogy.”
Breath taking. This person can’t be a myth because myths don’t appear in the lists that this person appears in. A rounded shape with no corners springs to mind again.
Remember this, it is Nevin’s first and best reason for ignoring the science we will point you at later on.
Wondering if number two is just as “good”?
“Secondly there is nothing in the teachings of Jesus on marriage to suggest for one second that he doubted that Adam was a real person, and indeed when we look at the writings of Paul again we see the same thing, that he spoke of Adam as being formed first and then woman coming from him, and that’s in at least two places. So the new testament and this who spa, like Paul and Jesus refer to Adam as a historical person.”
Once again, most Christians don’t rely on the bible being inerrant. Most Christians treat it as historians treat it; an ancient collection of work from different authors written at different times and offering poetry and insight into the human condition. Most Christians go further and think it was inspired by God. Neither the Pope nor the Archbishop of Canterbury would go as far as Nevin does. This is why neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the Pope continue to deny huge swathes of scientific endeavour.
Ok we are back on firmly scientific ground with the next claim;
"this is one of the problems of science as theta define it as a materialistic process without reference to any supernatural cause or event "
This is simply untrue. At this stage we are not sure if Nevin is simply mistaken or if he is deliberately trying to mislead. If he continues to make this claim after the error in it has been pointed out to him then we will know.
We treat this subject in detail here.
Nevin doesn’t make such a wild claim lightly. Remember that this is just part of the picture he wants to paint of a world wide, multi-disciplinary, multi-generational conspiracy of atheists fighting Satan’s battle. It is only in such a context that his denial of most of modern science can make sense. You will see later hints from him that teachers are in on the “conspiracy” as well.
Next Nevin talks a little about Francis Collins as an example of a scientist who is a christian - of course this seems totally at odds with his comment about science ruling our god by definition. He also doesn’t mention that fact that Collins has dismissed both biblical creationism and ID as being unscientific and bad theology. So we have dug out a few comments from Collins about creationists and ID proponents (our emphasis);
“The tragedy of young-earth creationism is that it takes a relatively recent and extreme view of Genesis, applies to it an unjustified scientific gloss, and then asks sincere and well-meaning seekers to swallow this whole, despite the massive discordance with decades of scientific evidence from multiple disciplines. Is it any wonder that many sadly turn away from faith concluding that they cannot believe in a God who asks for an abandonment of logic and reason? Again from Augustine:
In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different Interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.
Again, written over 600 years ago but right on target today!”
“The past ten years have seen the emergence of a new theory of how God has intervened in the development of living organisms. Intelligent Design proponents point to the complexity of multi-component molecular machines as unlikely products of a random evolutionary process. The argument about irreducible complexity is an interesting one. And yet I must say, the more one looks at these supposedly complex and irreducibly complex structures (whether it is the flagella, the eye, or the clotting cascade), the more one begins to see some evidence of intermediate forms that could have had some selective advantage. While not offering strong evidence against Intelligent Design, the study of genomes offers absolutely no support either. In fact, I would say—and many others have said it better—a major problem with the Intelligent Design theory is its lack of a plan for experimental verification. “
Next from Nevin is a cleverly hidden implication that the historical existence of Adam is actually a scientifically controversial topic when in reality it is not.
“As I see it scientists and evangelicals are drawn up into two groups, those who accept Adam as a real person and those who accept that Adam was created as a result of evolution. Does it make a difference? Does it make a difference if what you as a young person maybe in your 5th and 6th form believe. I do believe it does make a difference and I have listed some of the differences that I see.”
So let’s see just what those differences are then;
“First of all if it was the result of an evolutionary process there is no need for god or god the creator as evolution starts off and ends according to them by its own action.”
Well no, evolutionary theists (i.e. a vast majority of Christians) think this is tosh.
This next bit is bordering on bigotry;
“If you are the process of an evolutionary process then you are not responsible for your own actions, there is no sin there is no need of a saviour and you have to question yourself, where does this sense of moral values come from, life has no purpose and christianity is false so I believe it does matter where you stand.”
It almost goes without saying that he is clearly trying pull the wool over believers eyes with this. This kind of stuff is impossible to satirise. Often a useful indicator that something is pushing back the boundaries of silliness.
Even if he doesn’t agree with the huge pile of both religious and non-religious opinion that is against him, he speaks as if there is no possible counterargument. He ignores it all. He makes no attempt to support his claim and no attempt to counter any of the many arguments against it.
Ok next Nevin gets out his Creationist playbook and we have some claims I have heard made by perhaps half a dozen young earth creationists in the past couple of years here in the UK;
- You can breed dogs all you want they are still dogs
- The Galapagos finches were all finches after all.
Based on the use of the phrase “after their kind” in Genesis, Nevin thinks that there is some kind of barrier preventing the production of varieties or sub-species through evolutionary process eventually producing new species.
He doesn’t accept common ancestry but he does accept that a million species of beetles evolved from the “beetle kind” that was saved on Noah’s Ark about 4,000 years ago. That means that whilst denying evolution as understood by science, Nevin thinks that a new beetle species has evolved approximately every 36 hours since the time of Noah’s flood.
Before we move on to Nevin’s next claim, it is worth pausing a second to explain a common creationist tactic that they have practiced right back to their modern emergence in the early twentieth century in the southern United States. It’s very easy to do and can be an effective debating tactic if the audience are unaware of the facts (in other words, it’s a convincing way of lying).
Look out for any kind of scandal or dispute in science, harp on about it, suggest that this means that no scientific findings can be relied upon and therefore your own claims are definitely true.
On no account point out any of the following; scientists and not creationist discovered the error/fraud, scientists still accept the underlying or supporting evidence, in fact stay away from any kind of detailed explanations of complicated issues, just keep it simple. That way anyone trying to cover off the detail just looks like they are being too clever by half.
Nevin gives us classic example of this technique in action as follows;
Haeckel embryo drawings;
"Ernest Haeckel was a scientist who supported Darwin and he put forward the idea that when you look at the development of an animal or a human within the womb it undergoes a series of changes so that it looks like a fish at one stage and gradually evolves and the next slide is a picture of animals, human, pig, salamander etc. And you will notice that there are similarities of slits on the region of the gills, again earner Haeckel faked those results, he manipulate those embryos so that they all look alike. That now should be abandoned from any text book you have at school because it is false, there is no evidence that a human goes through the process, the various stages of evolution within the womb."
Firstly, can anyone out there actually give us an example of this being used in this way in a school? I can’t find anything and I have been looking for a while.
Secondly, the diagrams were exaggerated and wrongly labelled but the underlying point about common ancestry being reflected in common developmental stages does have merit.
Here is a more detailed examination of this issue if you are interested.
Next up Nebraska Man;
“Here is an impression by the artist of Nebraska man now just look at him the height and the brutish appearance and the skin and so forth, that in fact was base don one single tooth which was identified in 1922 and from that tooth the artist gives you that impression, six years later that tooth was found in fact not to be from a primitive man but in fact from an extinct pig and then in 1972 evidence was found that these pigs were still alive in the community, so remember that the artist portrays the skin the hair and the appearance and sometimes its on the most flimsy of evidence.”
Which is examined here. The illustration, which was for a newspaper actually had the following caption;
"Mr. Forestier has made a remarkable sketch to convey some idea of the possibilities suggested by this discovery. As we know nothing of the creature's form, his reconstruction is merely the expression of an artist's brilliant imaginative genius. But if, as the peculiarities of the tooth suggest, Hesperopithecus was a primitive forerunner of Pithecanthropus, he may have been a creature such as Mr. Forestier has depicted." (Smith 1922)
Next up Piltdown Man;
“We all know about the Piltdown man this was put forward as a primitive man and scientists actually in the same institution as those who discovered it set it up as a hoax, the took fragments of a human skull a chimpanzee jaw and teeth and they filed them down and stained them and it took 40 years for some of these scientists of high repute to actually come to realise that they had been hoaxed by this which was totally false.
This again was put forward as a primitive man, this was Lucy unearthed in Ethiopia but most, majority of scientists of today now believe that it is not a forerunner of man at all but indeed it is in fact an ape.”
Check here for the actual story.
Back up for a moment from this collection of “frauds” arguments Nevin also threw in this little gem along the way;
“This is what is known as the tree of life, Darwin’s tree of life, and by the way again that is something that should be taken out of textbooks because both both nature and new scientists how both recently indicated that the idea of a tree of life is totally false.”
This claim is wrong. It is so obviously and simply wrong that it really does stretch the imagination to believe that Nevin doesn’t know this.
The issue he is distorting wildly relates to the fact that science now understands that many single celled organisms can swap bits of DNA between species and so the roots of the tree of life look a bit like a tangled web rather than one solid root.
Here is comment from one of the very magazines he claims supports his claims;
“As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, we await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened. None of this should give succour to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that "New Scientist has announced Darwin was wrong". Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not.”
This is as clear an example of dishonesty in argument you are likely to come across and Nevin should be questioned about this at every opportunity.
Now Nevin has saved some entertainment for us for the end of his talk. This is apparently his own work;
“Adam first, the woman second. […] look at the extreme right and bottom line that is the male chromosome, he’s got a female chromosome X and a male chromosome Y. Now there is a biological reason why man was created first. The female has XX and the male has XY, now if the female had been created first he could never have made a male from a female as she has two X chromosome but you can make a female from a male as he has an X chromosome so the man was formed first and then eve and it was good.”
Suitable for children in science lessons? We don’t think so.