Queen Mary University professor rejects evolution and promotes the New Testament in his inaugural lecture

December 12, 2022 • 9:15 am

Here we have an hourlong talk by Richard Buggs, Senior Research Leader (Plant Health & Adaptation) at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London. We met Dr. Buggs on this site in 2021 as “a creationist professor of evolutionary biology in England,” where he touted Intelligent Design;  I included a shorter video in which Buggs mixed his God with his science. Now he’s doing it again in his Inaugural Lecture at Queen Mary University (below).

His personal webpage gives his bona fides:

Professor Richard Buggs is an evolutionary biologist and molecular ecologist. His research group analyses DNA sequences to understand how plants, especially trees, adapt in response to climate change and new pests and pathogens. Richard has published on a variety of evolutionary processes including: natural selection, speciation, hybridisation and whole genome duplication. The birch species Betula buggsii is named after him. Richard is a Christian, and sometimes blogs on issues where biology and Christianity intersect.

He’s also author of the 2007 Guardian article below (click if you want to read):

A quote from the article:

But, whatever the limitations of Darwinism, isn’t the intelligent design alternative an “intellectual dead end”? No. If true, ID is a profound insight into the natural world and a motivator to scientific inquiry. The pioneers of modern science, who were convinced that nature is designed, consequently held that it could be understood by human intellects. This confidence helped to drive the scientific revolution. More recently, proponents of ID predicted that some “junk” DNA must have a function well before this view became mainstream among Darwinists.

But, according to Randerson, ID is not a science because “there is no evidence that could in principle disprove ID”. Remind me, what is claimed of Darwinism? If, as an explanation for organised complexity, Darwinism had a more convincing evidential basis, then many of us would give up on ID

Back to the talk. This is a very bizarre lecture. In the first half he denies the existence of branching evolutionary trees, arguing that this invalidates both Darwinism and natural selection (note: although evolution is required for such trees, natural selection is not).

To do this, he cherry-picks data in which a few independent trees, derived from both morphological and DNA data, are not concordant. But that does happen under evolution, for sometimes genes are transferred horizontally, or via hybridization, or we have “incomplete lineage sorting”, in which segregating ancestral genetic variation is distributed among descendants. Further, if you use only a few genes—and note that Buggs’s trees are based on only a few genes—you may get a “gene tree” that’s discordant with the “species tree”—the actual history of new lineage formation via splitting. Allen Orr and I discuss this discordance in the Appendix of our book Speciation. The upshot is that you don’t expect every gene to give the same tree, but if evolution and evolutionary splitting occurred, you would expect the preponderance of genes to give the same tree. And they do, save in the rare case when there’s been pervasive hybridization between groups, and the species involved are fairly closely related.

Buggs also dwells at length on the relatively sudden appearance of angiosperms, almost implying that it supports sudden creation, though he ignores the fact that monocot plants appear far earlier than angiospemrs in the fossil record, so the data don’t support the evidence of any creation. (Note: Buggs implies that the fossil record and molecular data support a religious scenario rather than an evolutionary one, but is very canny about mentioning Biblical creationism or Intelligent Design.)

Buggs’s denigration of evolutionary trees constitutes, he claims, evidence for a Designer (aka God/Jesus). AT 30:00. for example, he argues that the NON-existence of evolutionary trees supports a Designer, for if a system were designed rather than evolved, you wouldn’t expect concordant trees; you’d get “a bit of a mess”.)

At 39:38, Buggs shifts gears and tells the baffled audience (listen to the tepid applause is at the end!) that well, maybe the evolutionary “tree of life” doesn’t exist, but the BIBLICAL tree of life does! This “tree of life” stands for eternity and all the claims of Christianity, for the words “tree of life” appears in Revelation (2:7 and 22:1-3).  Here’s a summary of Buggs’s “evidence” for the Bible:

In other words, because many people believed in Christianity, and John had a revelation, Christianity must be true (his words are “we should not lightly dismiss John’s claims”).  How little it takes to convince Buggs of the New Testament’s truth, and how much it would take to convince him of evolution! (Remember, he concentrates ONLY on the existence of trees as evidence for evolution, ignoring things like development, the fossil record, biogeography, observations of natural selection in action, and all the stuff I adduce in Why Evolution is True.)

I’d urge you to at least listen to the last 20 minutes so you can see how a scientist can be so credulous that he’s persuaded that Christianity is true based on the thinnest evidence you can imagine.

Finally, BUGGS goes woke at the end, promoting “inclusion” in STEM, but he apparently does as a way to promote religion. For, as the sweating Dr. Buggs shows, Christianity is most pervasive in “countries of color”: those in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America (also the U.S., but he ignores that). His conclusion? We need to include RELIGION more in the sciences, and be nicer to believers, because that will attract more “non diverse” people into STEM. This is a very weaselly proposal for sneaking religion into the sciences!

In the end, Buggs distorts and misrepresents what science has told us, ignores the pervasive evidence for evolution besides evolutionary trees, and gives an embarrassingly thin account of “evidence” for Christianity.

Yet this man is a professor of evolutionary biology and molecular ecology! His presence at Queen Mary University of London, much less his promotion to Professor, reflects very poorly on his university. I’m not urging his dismissal, though if he were teaching this guff at a public university in America he’d be violating the First Amendment and should be told to leave the religion out of his teaching. Now it’s possible that Buggs doesn’t mention Jesus or the Bible in his classes, and that would be great. But I truly doubt that he gives a good account of the evidence for evolution, either. (After all, he accept Intelligent Design, not evolution.) That is, I suspect Buggs’s students are being shortchanged, and if that’s the case, I feel sorry for them. As for Queen Mary University, I’d merely suggest that they check if Buggs is dragging religion into his teachings.

h/t: Gerdien

32 thoughts on “Queen Mary University professor rejects evolution and promotes the New Testament in his inaugural lecture

  1. As for Queen Mary University, I’d merely suggest that they check if Buggs is dragging religion into his teachings.

    I hope they do. As much as some people on this site argue for professorial sovereignty, I disagree. I have seen too many teachers behaving badly.

    1. I agree, I don’t think that academic freedom should be freedom to teach what they like; on a science course they should teach the relevant science (academic freedom is then about their scholarship outside the classroom).

    2. In the USA, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits teachers in public schools, and professors at public universities, from dragging religion into the classroom. Academic freedom is rooted in the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, but it does not supersede the interpretation of the Establishment Clause clearly established by Edwards v. Aguilar (1987).

      Then again, I haven’t much confidence that, if squarely presented with the issue, the theocratic wing of our current SCOTUS wouldn’t dispose of Edwards v. Aguilar with the same alacrity it did Roe v. Wade.

  2. In your last paragraph, I think you mean that an American public university, as a creature of government, would be violating the First Amendment if it allowed him to teach religious interpretations. The Constitution doesn’t restrict the free exercise of religion by private individuals as individuals. I think the distinction is important, even if perhaps obvious to Americans, because otherwise you run into freedom of speech issues, also guaranteed to individuals under the First against government actions.

    Once he had been fired by the university, he would be free to say whatever he likes about intelligent design.

  3. The faithful cannot accept evolution because if evolution were true they, the faithful, wouldn’t be special. Evolution is too messy for those who believe in perfection. GROG

  4. Looking forward to Expelled II: Ejected Buggsaloo from the DI. Seriously though, if the Rapture Monkeys spent 1/10 the time on Theodicy that they do on “complex specified information,” they would be looking for a way to kill their deity instead of glorifying it.

  5. Appalling. One very minor point: you say monocots precede angiosperms. Monocots are angiosperms (e.g., grasses, palms). Other seed plants preceded angiosperms (e.g., conifers, cycads).
    Best, Doug

  6. I taught mathematics and astronomy at Queen Mary for a few years in the early 1990s, when it was a well-regarded college of the University of London. Today, from what I hear, much of the teaching has been casualised, the senior management are treating staff who are striking in support of better pay and pensions very harshly, and to top it all, a creationist has been made professor of evolutionary genomics. I wouldn’t want to go back there.

  7. John claims to have witnessed “signs” from the “Son of God”. These claims were testable if he was writing before AD 100. If his claims were false, Christianity would not have grown.

    Oh sure, and if Mormonism’s claims were false, it wouldn’t have grown either!

    But seriously, the gospel of John? Does this guy even know anything about the Bible? John came along well after the three Synoptic gospels, completely changing the timeline of Jesus’ supposed ministry, changing it from one year to three, adding key characters and “eyewitnesses” to the story that the Synoptics’ authors had never heard of, inventing tons of “signs” and miracles which are obvious, fictional metaphors for theological points he was trying to make — and to cap it, the original work has clearly suffered many additions, deletions, and re-arrangements before it ended up in the form we have now. John’s “claims” are “reasonable”?

    1. There is currently a revisionist fashion among catholic theologians according to which the gospel of John is the oldest and the only really well informed one about Jesus’ theology. (as John’s gospel fits their religion better than Mark, the one that looks to be the oldest from form and content, and was thus always supposed to be the oldest by critical protestant scholarship). The concrete evidence they adduce for this is that apparently there is a fragment of a John’s gospel manuscript that predates the earliest known fragments from the other gospels. But that of course may be pure chance of preservation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rylands_Library_Papyrus_P52

      1. The early dating of that P52 fragment comes purely from analysis if the handwriting style, which is notoriously uncertain and depends a lot on having things to compare it with (which they don’t really have here). Thus the actual date could be anything from about 100 CE to about 300 CE.

        1. Even if the earliest date suggested by some of the handwriting specialists for that fragment were true, it would still be a little after the date that has always been assumed for John by critical bible scholarship anyway, so it doesn’t prove a thing. .

    2. Not to mention that he (or is it they? – I have heard it suggested that GJohn was written by a consortium of Syrian monks) includes loads of dialogue which cannot possibly have been recorded verbatim at the time.

      Like the other three surviving Gospels, GJohn has its own specific theological agenda, and was written in order to support that agenda.

    3. As I understood it, he is talking about Revelations (“The Revelation of St John the Divine”) and not the gospel of John.
      But you’re right anyway, his claim is still a non sequitur.

      1. I think he refers to both the gospel and the revelation. He uses the gospel to (as he sees it) establish John as a reliable witness.

  8. Why would God now want to make his existence discoverable through the observation of “organized complexity” with modern science? The Resurrection failed, and now he’s trying something else? He should try the Second Coming instead.

    1. “For God so loved the world that he gave us molecular biology, that whoever contemplates organized complexity shall not perish but have eternal life.”

  9. As someone briefly mentioned above the argument from growth is a very poor argument. Buddhism grew, Hinduism grew, Islam grew, Mormonism grew and even Scientology grew.
    Should we attend to the pronouncements of Tom Cruise or John Travolta.

    It is astonishing that people like this cling to their beliefs on the flimsiest of evidence even when that evidence is completely contradicted.

    1. Some time ago, I was buttonholed by Scientologists. The chief proselytizer asked me if I’d heard of Tom Cruise, and I said no. He looked a bit surprised but did not press the issue. I was obviously foreign and non Western; I think I got away with it.

      1. I thought Tom Cruise was a famous axe-murderer in … well whatever skin-tone and accent you were choosing to project in the meeting.
        [Enter Stage Right : a dwarvish axe murderer, riding a jet aeroplane, pursued by Sea.Org.]

  10. Evolution is hard…really hard. I’ll repeat it, evolution is really hard to “get”. That’s why creationism or Idism for that matter makes a mark. Sometimes I think evolutionary biologists take this fact for granted. Jerry doesn’t, which is why WEIT exists. But that’s it. The biggest opposition to evolution is that it ain’t easy to grok.

    1. If I took it for granted, I wouldn’t have written a popular book about evolution: what it says, how it works, and the evidence we have for it. I haven’t received one complaint out of thousands of emails that the book was “hard to understand.”

  11. He puts a much lower burden of proof on the veracity of John’s gospel and the revelation than he does on the scientific evidence for evolutionary trees. The suggestion that if the ‘seven signs’ were made up, other contemporaries would have exposed this fact is not at all convincing (even if we allow that John lived contemporaneously with JC and witnessed his life first hand). We can see from our own experience of ‘fake news’ that preposterous ideas can quickly gain a foothold and be believed by large numbers of people, purely on the basis of their vigorous dissemination and in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence that they are false. Why should the people of the Eastern Mediterranean area in the first decades of the first millennium have been immune to this?

  12. Dr Coyne, thank you for taking the time to watch my lecture. Unfortunately you seem to have misunderstood or misinterpreted it at several points. I would encourage you to watch it again, and ask your readers to watch it for themselves. For further clarification of my points about gene trees, I refer you to this blog that I wrote in 2021 where I mention horizontal gene transfer in support of my case https://ecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/obsolete-dawkinsian-evidence-for-evolution
    I hope that is helpful.

    1. Sorry, but I watched the whole sorry performance twice, not once, and came to the same conclusion both times. You mention HGT and incomplete lineage sorting only as excuses made by biologists to explain gene trees that are discordant, but in reality you think that trees are MASSIVELY discordant, and because God, not evolution, was at work, presumably deciding which gene variants went into which organism. Your whole lecture ignores the fact that for organisms that aren’t very closely related and aren’t massively hybridizing, some genes are discordant, but most genes are not, which is why we know that we’re more closely related to chimps than to gorillas or orangutans.

      Your lecture is deceptive–indeed, duplicitous, because you know better but hid the real data and gave a few cherry-picked discordant examples, pretending that that is evidence for God.

      I’m sorry but this is the last time you can post here, as you are an embarrassment to biologists. Otherwise I’d ask you to explain how you know that Christianity is the “right” religion and, say Islam or Hinduism is not.

      Oh, I forgot–you ignore the other MASSIVE evidence for evolution as evidenced in the fossil record, chromosomes, biogeography, development, vestigial traits, and so on. No, Satan made things look like evolution when in reality your God/Jesus did it.

      HGT, by the way, doesn’t support “your case”, which is that the New Testament is true. It’s odd that you have to distort or ignore the biological evidence for evolution while relying on the thinnest of evidence to show that the New Testament is correct. Such is the cognitive dissonance that afflicts the religious scientist.

  13. The birch species Betula buggsii is named after him.

    If I recall correctly, this means no less (and no more) than that not less than one of Bugg’s previous readers and/ or students remembers him sufficiently kindly to have used his name for one of their many (hopefully) plentiful characterisations.
    Genus “Betula” is well established, but how well-formed the definition of “buggsii” is remains a question for future botanists.
    On a scale of zero to one Trump, this is credibility at around 0.6 micro-Trump.

  14. Dear Jerry et al,
    Thank you for your blog and efforts in general and this post in particular.
    Just a brief heads up to say that Richard Buggs’ personal religious and political beliefs in no way represent those of the rest of our department (and his main employer is actually Kew Gardens, not Queen Mary). It is regrettable that he used the platform of the inaugural lecture in the way he did.
    Take care,

  15. Professor Buggs was apparently on the “scientific panel” of the British creationist organisation “Truth in Science”, although I cannot find any reference to him as a member of their current panel. His opinions on the similarity of human vs chimpanzee DNA are widely circulated on creationist websites with various headlines saying he’s “debunked” the relationship between humans and chimps and that he’s “disproved” evolution. To be clear Buggs has never produced a paper on the subject. He’s a plant biologist. All he’s ever done is to look at others’ research and write his opinions.

    As is usual creationists have cherry-picked from someone who’s opinions are very much the subject of confirmation bias.

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