Dr. Lydia McGrew on Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)

NOTE: Some readers have asked me for a transcript of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar. Unfortunately, I don’t have one, but the points she raised in her talk can be found at this link here. In her talk, Dr. McGrew was responding to an e-interview given by Michael Licona, a leading Christian apologist for the Resurrection who is an Associate Professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and who is also the author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017). In his book, Dr. Licona defended the historicity of the Gospels but endorsed the view, common among New Testament scholars, that the authors of the Gospels would have considered it perfectly legitimate to deliberately alter historical details of events, relating non-factual claims as if they were factual, because back in those days, writers of biographies were more concerned with Truth than with mere facts. Dr. McGrew is a conservative Christian writer but not a Biblical inerrantist. Nevertheless, she felt that by acknowledging the existence of what she terms “fictionalizing compositional devices” in the Gospels, Dr. Licona had conceded too much to skeptics such as Bart Ehrman (whom Licona debated on the reliability of the New Testament back in 2016), and that such a concession undermined his whole case for the historicity of the Resurrection. For this reason, Dr. Grew decided to respond to Dr. Licona by presenting the webinar shown below.

Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar is titled, “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them.” Her host for the webinar was Jonathan McLatchie, an Intelligent Design proponent who is currently a PhD student in cell biology and a contributor to various apologetics websites, as well as being the founder of the Apologetics Academy. I’m happy to report that Dr. Lydia McGrew’s Webinar is now available on Youtube. I commend it to viewers, and I can promise you it’s a very thought-provoking presentation, whatever your theological perspective may be. Comments are welcome from people of all faiths and none.

For the benefit of those readers who don’t know her, Dr. Lydia McGrew has a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University (1995), but nearly all of her published work has been in analytic philosophy, with specialties in epistemology and probability theory. Her curriculum vitae is here. Dr. McGrew is also a home schooling mother living in the Midwest, who is married to the philosopher, Dr. Timothy McGrew, Chair and Professor of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University (C.V. here).

UPDATE: I’ve transcribed the first part of Dr. McGrew’s talk, which can be viewed below. This is going to take a few days to finish. I invite readers to have a look at Dr. McGrew’s remarks on Bad Habit #1: Failure to make crucial distinctions. Comments are welcome.

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Do Atheists Exist?

This post is to move a discussion from Sandbox(4) at Entropy’s request.

Over on the Sandbox(4) thread, fifthmonarchyman made two statements that I disagree with:

“I’ve argued repeatedly that humans are hardwired to believe in God.”

“Everyone knows that God exists….”

As my handle indicates, I prefer to lurk.  The novelty of being told that I don’t exist overcame my good sense, so I joined the conversation.

For the record, I am what is called a weak atheist or negative atheist.  The Wikipedia page describes my position reasonably well:

Negative atheism, also called weak atheism and soft atheism, is any type of atheism where a person does not believe in the existence of any deities but does not explicitly assert that there are none. Positive atheism, also called strong atheism and hard atheism, is the form of atheism that additionally asserts that no deities exist.”

I do exist, so fifthmonarchyman’s claims are disproved.  For some reason he doesn’t agree, hence this thread.

Added In Edit by Alan Fox 16.48 CET 11th January, 2018

This thread is designated as an extension of Noyau. This means only basic rules apply. The “good faith” rule, the “accusations of dishonesty” rule do not apply in this thread.

Are Social Justice Warriors denying science? Is either Sex or Gender fluid?

Consider a heresy which contradicts the Gleischshaltung of Political Correctness: Gender is NOT a social construct, and both Gender and Sex are in fact binary.

How is this possible? Some sceptics suggest that both gender and sex are determined by chromosome status: Males are XY and females are XX. End of story.

The truth is not so simple. From my understanding of Biology: the default setting for embryonic development is female. Female fetuses can become male if two events occur:

1 – The activation of the SRY gene (controlling events such as differentiation of gonads into testes/ovaries)

2 – Testosterone Receptors bind to appropriate levels of Bio-available testosterone in utero.

So far, we have described a Binary situation:

Where can Biochemistry proceed differently? (I do not imply that “pathology” occurs anywhere during this discourse) Continue reading

Why consciousness must be electric

Nested hierarchies have been discussed adequately, one should think. So here is an alternative matter.

I would propose that consciousness must be electrical in nature, due to two crucial facts:

1. The information that becomes conscious is some of the information being carried by the action-potentials of the nerve cells. It is not any other kind of information, such as quantum states of molecules, it is simply the information that nerve cells are known to carry via action-potentials.

2. Electric fields are the only physical phenomenon in the brain that have both the ability to extend in space significantly beyond nerve conduction itself and to be able to change and interact exceedingly swiftly, just as we experience conscious changes occurring “instantly.”

There are many other issues involved, of course, however, the fact remains that the physical phenomena underlying consciousness must be able to account for how consciousness appears to have the kind of extension and interactivity that creates consciousness, as electric fields would seem to be able to do. And that physical phenomenon must be tied to the information being carried as nerve impulses, as the electric fields of the nervous system ineluctibly are.

There does not seem to be a realistic option of a different sort of phenomenon that can unify that information encoded in the nerves into a conscious whole, and to do so exceedingly swiftly and surely. Certainly quantum physics offers nothing beyond electric fields interacting that could magically account for consciousness, no matter how much hocus-pocus people try to coax out of quantum phenomena. In the end it can’t be strange loops or the “illusion of consciousness” either, as one has to explain the difference between the consciousness and the unconscious (I would propose that the amount of, and type of, interaction of electric fields is what is crucial).

A great many issues could be discussed, however it seems to me that beginning with the basics is appropriate. There really is only one good candidate for consciousness in the physics of the brain at all, which is the electric fields that are unquestionably a necessary part of nerve conduction in the first place. If consciousness simply is what it is to be like a highly structured and unified (always becoming unified) electric field from the inside, so to speak, then it is the one phenomenon that we know not just abstractly, but as reality itself.

Lysenko Returns

The Soviet Era’s Deadliest Scientist Is Regaining Popularity in Russia
Trofim Lysenko’s spurious research prolonged famines that killed millions. So why is a fringe movement praising his legacy?

Wheat, rye, potatoes, beets—most everything grown according to Lysenko’s methods died or rotted, says Hungry Ghosts. Stalin still deserves the bulk of the blame for the famines, which killed at least 7 million people, but Lysenko’s practices prolonged and exacerbated the food shortages. (Deaths from the famines peaked around 1932 to 1933, but four years later, after a 163-fold increase in farmland cultivated using Lysenko’s methods, food production was actually lower than before.) The Soviet Union’s allies suffered under Lysenkoism, too. Communist China adopted his methods in the late 1950s and endured even bigger famines. Peasants were reduced to eating tree bark and bird droppings and the occasional family member. At least 30 million died of starvation.

Lysenko’s grip on power began to weaken after Stalin died in 1953. By 1964, he’d been deposed as the dictator of Soviet biology, and he died in 1976 without regaining any influence. His portrait did continue to hang in some institutes through the Gorbachev years, but by the 1990s, the country had finally put the horror and shame of Lysenkoism behind it.

Until recently. As the new Current Biology article explains, Lysenko has enjoyed a renaissance in Russia over the past few years. Several books and papers praising his legacy have appeared, bolstered by what the article calls “a quirky coalition of Russian right-wingers, Stalinists, a few qualified scientists, and even the Orthodox Church.”

There are several reasons for this renewal. For one, the hot new field of epigenetics has made Lysenko-like ideas fashionable. Most living things have thousands of genes, but not all those genes are active at once. Some get turned on or off inside cells, or have their volumes turned up or down. The study of these changes in “gene expression” is called epigenetics. And it just so happens that environmental cues are often what turn genes on or off. In certain cases, these environmentally driven changes can even pass from parent to child—just like Lysenko claimed.


What’s wrong with this paper?

Taking a new tack with the common descent/common design theme, I’d like to sneak up on it. As Sal Cordova likes to do, I offer a hypothesis for critique. Here’s an old phyogenetic analysis of mine. Does it show common descent? If not, what’s wrong with it?

Harshman J., Huddleston C.J., Bollback J., Parsons T.M., Braun M.J. True and false gharials: A nuclear gene phylogeny of Crocodylia. Systematic Biology 2003;  52:386-402.

This one is about crocodiles. Are crocodiles all the same kind? How do you know? If they aren’t how many kinds are there within the group and how do you know? If they are, are they a whole kind or just part of a larger kind? And if the latter, what is the larger kind?

Craniopagus twins revisited: A response to Professor Egnor

Professor Michael Egnor has kindly responded to my post, The craniopagus twins from British Columbia: A test case for Thomistic dualism (TSZ, November 25, 2017), in a new post, titled, The Craniopagus Twins and Thomistic Dualism (ENV, December 10, 2017). In my earlier post, I had argued that “the twins’ ability to share thoughts without speaking weakens the case for Thomistic dualism, and lends support to a subtle variety of materialism which incorporates top-down causation.” In his response, Professor Michael Egnor gets to the heart of our disagreement and explains why he does not think that the experiment I proposed would serve to test whether dualism or materialism is true. Egnor proposes another test of his own, relating to mathematical abilities. In this post, I’d like to explain why I object to Professor Egnor’s test, before putting forward another one, very similar to it, which I believe could experimentally resolve whether dualism or materialism is true. Finally, I offer a few reflections on the philosophical argument which, Egnor contends, makes materialism logically untenable.

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At last, an intelligent solution to the problem of global warming

Sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a thermal power plant

I’d like to draw readers’ attention to an excellent article in Quartz magazine (December 4, 2017) by Akshat Rathi, titled, Humanity’s fight against climate change is failing. One technology can change that. Dr. Rathi has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Oxford, and his article is based on lengthy conversations with more than 100 academics, entrepreneurs, policy experts, and government officials.

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The Fine-Tuning Argument – Kettle Logic on a Cosmological Scale

As a relatively recent arrival here at TSZ, I am somewhat intrigued to still see the Fine-Tuning Argument in regular rotation.  It appears often in comments, but the two most recent OP’s that I have come across dedicated to the topic are Mung’s ‘The Wonder of Water‘ and RobC’s ‘The Big Numbers Game‘.

That I find the Fine-Tuning Argument completely unconvincing will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read any of my comments on TSZ.  But I think it is worth taking a moment to explain why that is as my reasoning differs slightly from that of others whose comments I have seen.  In a comment on the ‘Wonder of Water’ thread, Joe Felsenstein comes closest while referring to the ability of the Schrodinger Wave Equation to model all of the properties that we see expressed in Chemistry:

“If Michael Denton’s Intelligent Designer wants to fine-tune properties of water she has to do it by tinkering with the SWE. Which would mess up a lot else.”

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Two-million-year-old Adam and Eve still possible: Dr. Ann Gauger’s model remains viable

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short post titled, Adam and Eve still a possibility?, in which I drew readers’ attention to the work of geneticist Richard Buggs, Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London, who thinks it’s still theoretically possible that the human race once passed through a short, sharp population bottleneck of just two individuals, followed by exponential population growth. Biologist Dennis Venema, professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, has recently written a two-part reply to Buggs, titled, Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1) and A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 2). But in a comment in response to a query of mine, Professor Venema conceded that at the present time, science cannot rule out Dr. Ann Gauger’s hypothesis that there was a severe bottleneck around two million years ago, with the emergence of Homo erectus, whom she identifies as the first true human being. When I pressed Professor Venema, saying, “In plain English, what you’re saying is that science can’t rule out an original couple, if they lived more than 1 million years ago,” he replied:

I guess it depends on how reliable you think PSMC methods are as they approach this time frame. The data looks smooth to me out to around 1.5 MYA or so, plus or minus, but the method loses its power as you go back further and further.

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The craniopagus twins from British Columbia: A test case for Thomistic dualism

The story of Krista and Tatiana Hogan, 11-year-old twin girls born in Vancouver, British Columbia, who are joined at the top, back, and sides of their heads, will doubtless be familiar to most readers. Here’s a documentary that was made about the twins:

Over at Uncommon Descent and Evolution News and Views, Denyse O’Leary, David Klinghoffer and Michael Egnor (who is a Professor of Neurosurgery at State University of New York, Stony Brook), have argued that the Hogan twins constitute a living refutation of the materialistic notion that mind and brain are one and the same thing. Each twin has her own distinct mind and personality, despite the fact that they share parts of their brains.

In this post, I’m going to argue that while these three authors are perfectly correct in insisting that each twin does indeed possess a mind of her own, their claim that this fact refutes materialism is profoundly mistaken. On the contrary, I will argue that the twins’ ability to share thoughts without speaking weakens the case for Thomistic dualism, and lends support to a subtle variety of materialism which incorporates top-down causation. And on this point, the mother of the Hogan twins would probably agree with me: she sends her children to a school run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which teaches that the human brain is the seat of thought, language, creativity, morality and even our consciousness of God. Could this Christian version of materialism be correct, after all?

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Not-so-intelligent design

Much of the popular debate about evolution is between neo-Darwinians and neo-Paleyans (advocates of “intelligent design”). If you ask a neo-Paleyan who the intelligent designer is, they typically say they believe “God”, but there are other possible answers, for example, “extraterrestrials”, which begs the question “Who designed extraterrestrials?”, although I will ignore it. Continue reading

The Ills of the Skeptical Movement

In another post, recent contributor TomMueller stated that GPS satellites use relativistic synchronization to match up their clocks with earthbound clocks.  I explained to him that this was not so, even though its easy to believe, if you don’t think critically, that it is.

Tom followed my post to him with a litany of ad hominem, “Oh, you are a moron, you are a troll, creationist idiots,  I read about it on a credible site, I talked to a physics professor about it…” and on and on he went with his insults and denial.

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Can Evolution be possible if Entropy is true; or rather, is Evolution possible because Entropy is true!

So what is Entropy?

To follow in the tradition of Maimonides. Entropy is NOT a tendency to disorder! I need to thank Joe Felsenstein for directing me to Frank L. Lambert’s insights on a previous thread probably best left alone. Here is a great site to elucidate Lambert’s insights:


What about Evolution? Can complex systems arise naturally and spontaneously into higher tiers of complexity and order and opportunity—according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics— and all without divine intervention commonly described as Intelligent Design or Irreducible Complexity?

Sean Carroll has much to offer on this question:

Entropy and Complexity, Cause and Effect, Life and Time

Participants should refrain from arc-reflex boiler-plate diatribes echoing previously held opinion and first examine what Carroll has to say. Failure to do so will merit cyber-smack downs.

Science, not theology, should decide the merits of Intelligent Design

Over at Biologos, an evangelical theologian named Robin Parry has written a hit piece titled, God is More Than an Intelligent Designer. Now, I have no problem with someone criticizing Intelligent Design. But I do have a problem when someone criticizes it without getting out of his armchair and taking a look at the evidence for and against it. My own position is that Intelligent Design theory should be evaluated on strictly scientific grounds. Parry, unfortunately, criticizes it for all the wrong reasons, which can be summed up in a single, dismissive phrase: “Your God is too small.”

Is Parry right? Let’s have a look at his arguments.

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A corrected worksheet targeted for High School students proving that even if Photosynthesis were IC – it would still be evolvable.

This is my second kick at the can and a follow up to my last OP called:

A worksheet targeted for High School students proving once and for all that Photosynthesis is not “Irreducibly Complex”

In deference to Keiths, I have changed the title.

I want to thank participants for their insightful suggestions… yes that includes you Sal. I even included your frog metaphor.

Special thanks go to Mung and to Bill!

A very deep bow and tip of the hat goes to Keiths.


I would appreciate any feedback and suggestions for improvement before I finalize it and submit to the Biology Teachers’ cyber-community for their perusal.

ENV’s shockingly bad argument that humans are products of intelligent design

If you were going to argue that any species on Earth is the product of intelligent design, then humans would be a pretty logical choice – after all, we’re the only species that’s capable of knowing whether we’re designed, and if so, of inquiring as to who our Designer might be. That makes us a pretty remarkable species. In a recent unsigned post, Evolution News and Views attempts to summarize the evidence for humans as products of intelligent design. Unfortunately, it does such a poor job that it ends up shooting itself in the foot. In this post, I’d like to highlight the questions which any halfway-decent case for humans being design products needs to address, and suggest a few answers.

Briefly, the questions which any theory positing that humans were designed needs to answer are as follows:

(1) What exactly are human beings?
(2) Which physical and mental attributes of human beings can we confidently say were designed?
(3) Did these attributes all appear at once? And if not, what are the implications for human equality?
(4) Which hominins in the fossil record qualify as human?
(5) Can we identify the point in the fossil record at which human beings appear, as products of intelligent design? If not, why not?

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