Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Trouble in Turkey

As Tayyip Erdogan tightens his control over secular Turkey, the most recent casualty is evolutionary science.  The BBC News reports:
On Wednesday, the head of the education ministry's curriculum board Alpaslan Durmuş announced that a section on Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution would be excluded from biology textbooks in the ninth grade (14 and 15 year olds) from next year on.

Students are "too young to understand 'controversial subjects'", he said, adding that the topic will be delayed until undergraduate study.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already approved the proposed changes to the national curriculum, which are expected to be published next week after the Muslim Eid ending the fasting month of Ramadan.

"Turkey will be the second country after Saudi Arabia that excludes theory of evolution from its curriculum," says Feray Aytekin Aydogan, the head of Egitim-Sen - a teachers' union representing over 100,000 members across the country.

"Even in Iran, there are 60 hours of lessons on evolution and 11 hours on Darwin himself," she adds.
This has been brewing for some time in Turkey. Ten years ago, while the creationist movement had Adnan Oktar (nee Harun Yahya), as its voice, there was not unified support within the administration. That has changed.While there is resistance, it is not clear how much of it the new, conservative Islamic government will allow. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Noah and the Dinosaurs

Sorry for the light posting.  I have been trying to beat into shape a BioLogos article on the new human remains from Jebel Irhoud.

Remember the kerfuffle when Ken Ham denied that people rode dinosaurs after Noah's flood and then was confronted with his own book that graphically showed exactly that? Well, AiG is now promoting a three-book series on the life of Noah called  The Remnant Trilogy.  The cover of the second book, Man of Resolve, has an illustration of Noah in a gladiatorial arena (not the first time AiG has ventured into this territory) facing, you guessed it: a dinosaur. Here is the cover:


Here is the description:
As wickedness increases across the land, Noah and his loved ones endure painful consequences of a world bent on evil. King Lamech expands his rule through deception and force, but does his kindness toward Noah hint that things may change?

Noah and Emzara explore their world and their eyes are opened anew to the creative genius of the Most High, yet mankinds's wretchedness threathens to upend their peaceful corner of the world. While tracking down the perpetrator of a malicious crime, they are tested by tragedy and must decide if they will sacrifice everything for truth and justice.

After years of serving God, Noah reaches crisis of faith due to his mounting frustrations with the proliferation of sin and the apparent silence from the Creator. Thrust into a series of perilous situations, Noah's deepest convictions are challenged. His response will direct his course and change the world forever.

More than just a novel, Noah: Man of Resolve features non-fiction sections in the back of the book that provide answers to popular questions about the time in which Noah lived and explain where certain characters and events from the book can be seen at the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky.
Reading this, I am reminded of that ghastly John Voight, Mary Steenburgen series Noah's Ark, by Robert Halmi, Jr., a few decades back. Christian fiction, or fiction based on Christian principles (e.g. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein) can be quite entertaining and provide real-world examination of one's faith and life.  The problem that I have is the last paragraph.  Aside from the shameless plug for AiG, the reader will be presented with half-truths and fiction presented as fact and may not know the difference.   Further, because it is fiction, it will have a wider audience. 

The AiG perspective is that dinosaurs and humans really did coexist, despite absolutely no evidence of this.  David Menton and Ken Ham were to announce that they had proof that humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time but, as nearly as I can tell, no such proof ever materialized. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Slightly Off-Topic: Mike Adams: Inherit the Windfall

Mike Adams has a new column on the continuing travails of Bryan College and its embattled president Stephen Livesay.  Bryan, if you will remember, made the news when twenty percent of its faculty left after being required to sign a statement of faith supporting young earth creationism and a literal Adam and Eve.  More recently, it allied itself with Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, which I am quite sure was, as much as anything, politically motivated.

Now it seems that there have been some financial irregularities to go on top of the religious ones.  Adams writes:
The present crisis dates back to 2009 when one of the founders of the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) was accused of sexual molestation. A proposal was made to sell a property owned by NACA, which is known as the Fort Bluff Camp, for an amount of $2.5 million. This would have covered NACA’s debt at the time, which was $900,000. Thus, it would have left them $1.6 million in the black. This is where Bryan College President Stephen Livesay gets involved. This is also where the gross financial misconduct begins.

Livesay managed to defeat the proposal to sell the land with an alternate proposal to get rid of the then-existing 13-member NACA Board. Livesay proposed a new 15-member NACA Board be put in its place. Elevating audacity to a Zen art form, Livesay suggested the following composition for the new NACA Board: Nine new members from the Bryan College Board and six members from the existing NACA Board. Unbelievably, Livesay proposed that he would be the one to choose all 15 members.
It goes downhill from there.According to Adams and other sources with whom I have spoken personally, the board is now little more than a mouthpiece for Livesay.  The last person who would stand up to him resigned from the board last year, as Adams notes.  From other sources, it became known that, as of a few years ago, Stephen Livesay was paying himself over $300k a year as president.  This after telling Todd Wood and the CORE Institute that the college didn't have the funds to continue supporting the institute.  This is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.  I hope that Bryan survives.  We were down there for a summer institute last summer with my son, Marcus, and it is a very pretty campus and the people there were very friendly.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Ark Encounter Not Helping Local Economy

From Linda Blackford, of the Lexington Herald Leader:
Ark co-founder Mike Zovath said the attraction will attract its 1 millionth visitor by July, but there is no way to independently verify that number. He says all of Answers in Genesis, including the Creation Museum, will employ about 900 people this summer.

Locals do see cars and tour buses full of tourists eager to see the life-size wooden boat, filled with exhibits of young-Earth creationism, an animatronic Noah and friendly dinosaurs. What they don’t see is those tourists crossing over I-75 to drive the mile or two into downtown Williamstown to eat, drink and shop.

Main Street has been in decline since the 1970s, when I-75 replaced KY-25 as a major north-south artery that was filled with cars and people, locals say. The Ark was the first ray of hope the city had seen in years.
This is unfortunate. That was the ONE thing that I hoped that this would do.In fact, I had hoped that people would jettison the Ark Encounter and see northern Kentucky which is at the lower end of the tills from the last glaciation, and is a beautiful area. 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Ken Ham Claims He is Not a White Person


I just love Twitter!!!  Someone can make a perfect ass of themselves in a few seconds in the short space of 140 characters.  Ken Ham sent out a tweet that read thus:

Raw Story picks it up
Ham’s renunciation of his own whiteness was met with instant ridicule by his Twitter followers, who pointed out the hypocrisy of someone who regularly uses religion as a divisive cudgel calling for everyone to overlook racial disparities.

Others, meanwhile, simply used Ham’s post to once again mock him for believing that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark.
This is one reason I don't use Twitter.

Ever.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Off-Topic Update: Read the Gender Studies Papers That Inspired the ‘Penis Causes Climate Change’ Hoax

The Washington Free Beacon has a story on the background behind the recent gender studies hoax on which I reported here.  Elizabeth Harrington writes:
"We, like many, have been seeing stories and examples of ridiculous papers coming out of the far-left activist wing of academia, fields like gender studies, women's studies, and so on, based upon what's sometimes called ‘critical race and gender theory' or ‘radical constructivism,'" Lindsay said.

He first pointed to an infamous taxpayer-funded paper published last year that studied the "relationship between gender and glaciers." One goal of the study was to "improve human-ice relations."

"As many did, we strongly suspected the feminist glacier study was a hoax," Lindsay said. "But the journal and author stood by it."

Lindsay said he and Boghossian decided after the feminist glacier study that it was plausible to hoax the gender studies field, as Alan Sokal did in the 1990s. Sokal successfully submitted a paper that claimed gravity is a social construct.

Lindsay, a scholar and author, also said they witnessed many examples of gender studies proponents bullying other academics skeptical of their work, mostly by accusing their critics of racism and sexism.
Like them, I also thought the glacier paper was a hoax. The principle issue is that these people have become so theoretical that they cannot even make contact with the real world, so things that are objectively obvious to the vast majority of people escape them. Among the examples that are listed:
Donna M. Hughes wrote about a need for a "feminist critique of the scientific method," because science is "sexist, racist, heterosexist, and classist."

"Biological determinism has long been shown to be sexism, racism, and heterosexism at work under the guise of science," she wrote. "The objectivity of science has long been suspect or rejected."

Betsie Garner and David Grazian borrowed from West and Zimmerman for a paper published in 2016 that claims zoos are sexist.

An alligator's sharp teeth reinforces "hegemonic norms of masculinity" to boys, according to Garner and Grazian, who scold parents for engaging in dangerous stereotypes in conversations with their children at the zoo.
To your average, clear-thinking person, an alligator is an alligator. You know, order Crocodilia, family Alligatoridae, Sub-family Alligatorinae, genus Alligator. Not to these people. For them, everything is subtext.  Everything is grievance- or victim-related and nothing is objective.  They have to argue that the scientific method is sexist, because they cannot possibly use it in the service of their intellectually-bankrupt ideas. 

New BioLogos Post: What Homo Naledi Means for the Study of Human Evolution

I have a new post up on the significance of the Homo naledi dates and how they affect the study of human evolution.  Comments welcome there and here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New Post by Dennis Venema on Biological Information

Dennis Venema has a new post on the testing of an hypothesis by supporters of ID:
In previous posts in this series, we’ve explored the claim made by the Intelligent Design (ID) movement that evolutionary mechanisms are not capable of generating the information-rich sequences in genes. One example that we have explored is nylonase – an enzyme that allows the bacteria that have it to digest the human-made chemical nylon, and use it as a food source. As we have seen, nylonase is a good example of a de novo gene – a gene that arose suddenly and came under natural selection because of its new and advantageous function. Since nylonase is a folded protein with a demonstrable function, it should be beyond the ability of evolution to produce, according to ID.
It goes downhill from there for ID.Experiments routinely show that new proteins that appear can, very often, have functions and be incorporated into the genome. Further, this, apparently, happens at all stages of gene replication, transcription and translation.  As Venema notes at the end:
The importance of these results for ID arguments is clear. By direct experimental test, new biological functions have been shown to be common, not rare, within random sequences - and that these functions may be found in either RNA transcripts or de novo protein products. By Gauger’s own measure, ID advocates have been shown to be wrong. Since this particular ID claim undergirds a large proportion of the ID argument that biological information cannot have arisen through evolution, the consequences for ID are significant.
Stephen Meyer and Douglas Axe have, in the words of the Discovery Institute: “made this strong claim:”
[T]he neo-Darwinian mechanism — with its reliance on a random mutational search to generate novel gene sequences — is not an adequate mechanism to produce the information necessary for even a single new protein fold, let alone a novel animal form, in available evolutionary deep time.
From these experiments, we now know this to be completely wrong.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

3.3 Million Year Old Vertebral Column Confirms Human Pattern of Au. afarensis

The science site PhysOrg has posted a story on a study of the 3.3 million year old fossil from the site of Dikika, in the Afar Triangle.  The fossil, known as Selam, is an almost complete skeleton of a 2 ½ year-old child. From the story:
Many features of the human spinal column and rib cage are shared among primates. But the human spine also reflects our distinctive mode of walking upright on two feet. For instance, humans have fewer rib-bearing vertebrae - bones of the back - than those of our closest primate relatives. Humans also have more vertebrae in the lower back, which allows us to walk effectively. When and how this pattern evolved has been unknown until now because complete sets of vertebrae are rarely preserved in the fossil record.

"For many years we have known of fragmentary remains of early fossil species that suggest that the shift from rib-bearing, or thoracic, vertebrae to lumbar, or lower back, vertebrae was positioned higher in the spinal column than in living humans. But we have not been able to determine how many vertebrae our early ancestors had," said Carol Ward, a Curator's Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and lead author on the study. "Selam has provided us the first glimpse into how our early ancestors' spines were organized."
This gives us much better evidence of how bipedality was practiced in some of the earliest hominins. We know, from the footprints at Laetoli and the hip remains of Lucy, that Au. afarensis was bipedal but now we know that the rib structure had evolved into a more human pattern. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ken Ham Needs to Stay Away From Twitter

Like Donald Trump, Ken Ham sometimes shoots off at the mouth on his Twitter feed.  Hermant Mehta, of Patheos records his latest post:



As with most of the things that Ken Ham says about evolution, it reflects absolutely no knowledge of the subject and includes invective and nonsense.  As Mehta points out:
The entire point of science is to take what we know, try something new, find out new information, and expand our base of knowledge. The evidence for evolution springs from that process. You don’t need to regurgitate it. You don’t need to point to a science textbook. You can test it for yourself.
This is something Ken Ham will never understand.

P.S. This is one of the reasons I don't use Twitter.

Ever.

Was the LCA in Europe????

Was the last common ancestor of apes and humans in Europe?  That seems to be the gist of a study published in the PLoS One.  Nicole Mortillaro, of CBC News reports:
A jawbone discovered by German troops in Athens during the Second World War could be evidence that apes and humans diverged 200,000 years earlier than the current theory says.

Chimpanzees and bonobos are the nearest known relatives to humans, sharing 99 per cent of our DNA. It's believed that we split between five and seven million years ago.

However, researchers analyzing two fossils — a jawbone from a German museum and an upper premolar from a collection in Bulgaria — concluded their ages to be roughly 7.2 million years, and belonging to a pre-human.
From the paper in PLoS:
The split of our own clade from the Panini is undocumented in the fossil record. To fill this gap we investigated the dentognathic morphology of Graecopithecus freybergi from Pyrgos Vassilissis (Greece) and cf. Graecopithecus sp. from Azmaka (Bulgaria), using new μCT and 3D reconstructions of the two known specimens. Pyrgos Vassilissis and Azmaka are currently dated to the early Messinian at 7.175 Ma and 7.24 Ma. Mainly based on its external preservation and the previously vague dating, Graecopithecus is often referred to as nomen dubium. The examination of its previously unknown dental root and pulp canal morphology confirms the taxonomic distinction from the significantly older northern Greek hominine Ouranopithecus. Furthermore, it shows features that point to a possible phylogenetic affinity with hominins. G. freybergi uniquely shares p4 partial root fusion and a possible canine root reduction with this tribe and therefore, provides intriguing evidence of what could be the oldest known hominin.
Hominin, in this case, means humans and their premodern forms.  I think it is more than somewhat suspect to base a far-reaching hypothesis on one trait, even if it is the p4 root. It is commonly held that the last common ancestor of apes and humans was in Africa, sometime around 7.5 to 8 million years ago, but we have no fossil evidence to support that position.  While it is certainly true that the further back in time you go, the more ape-like our ancestors get, there is simply no smoking gun.

The world will not end if the LCA is, in fact, in southern Europe, but if it is, then it raises some interesting questions.  For one, if the LCA is in Europe, why are all of its hominin descendants in Africa?  So far, even discounting Sahelanthropus, which is a surface find and was crushed, all of the late Miocene and early Pliocene hominin remains are found in either the Afar triangle (Ardipithecus) or the Tugen Hills, in Kenya (Orrorin tugenensis).  If you add Sahelanthropus, then Chad comes into the picture. Additionally, why have we found no post-split hominids in southern Europe?  So far, all that has come out of the ground in this region is middle to late Miocene apes.

Other hurdles exist to acceptance of this idea.  For one, it is pretty clear that our closest living relatives, genetically, are the chimpanzees, who reside in the tropics of central Africa.   Next on the list is the gorilla, also found in the tropics of Africa.  Why have we found no precursors to these hominoids in southern Europe? 

On the other hand, the fossil find has been securely dated to the Messinian Event, in which the Mediterranean Sea effectively dried up, suggesting the possibility that the ancestors of the Pliocene hominins from North Africa migrated from southern Greece.  If this is so, then it raises the dark and ominous thought that much of the information regarding the LCA lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. That is terrible to contemplate.  This would also mean that Chimpanzees and Gorillas are the survivors of a group of Miocene apes that ranged from southern Europe to central Africa.  We know that the ancestors of chimpanzees once upon a time occupied the East African Rift Valley, but are now restricted to central and west Africa.   If their original range extended up into Egypt and beyond, then perhaps we are looking at a similar situation for their ancestors, as well.  

A whole lot more investigation needs to be done and more fossil remains need to be found to shore up the European LCA hypothesis.  Given that this new information does not come from newly discovered fossils does not raise my hopes. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gallup: Belief in Creationism At All-Time Low

Color me skeptical, but the Gallup organization has released its latest poll on the acceptance of creationism and the numbers are down.  Art Swift writes:
The percentage of U.S. adults who believe that God created humans in their present form at some time within the last 10,000 years or so -- the strict creationist view -- has reached a new low. Thirty-eight percent of U.S. adults now accept creationism, while 57% believe in some form of evolution -- either God-guided or not -- saying man developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life.

This is the first time since 1982 -- when Gallup began asking this question using this wording -- that belief in God's direct creation of man has not been the outright most-common response. Overall, roughly three-quarters of Americans believe God was involved in man's creation -- whether that be the creationist view based on the Bible or the view that God guided the evolutionary process, outlined by scientist Charles Darwin and others. Since 1982, agreement with the "secular" viewpoint, meaning humans evolved from lower life forms without any divine intervention, has doubled.
.
As the pollsters suggest, this may reflect a growing secularization in American society and not necessarily a change in the way that people understand evolution.  As with most of these polls, however, education plays a role:
Higher education levels are associated with less support for creationism and higher levels of belief in the evolutionary explanation for human origins. Belief in creationism is 21% among those with postgraduate education versus 48% of those with no more than a high school diploma. Agreement with evolution without God's involvement is 31% among postgrads versus 12% among Americans with a high school education or less.

However, even among adults with a college degree or postgraduate education, more believe God had a role in evolution than say evolution occurred without God.
This is not surprising considering that most left-leaning colleges and universities do their level best to beat belief in God out of the students.I came along at a time before the advent of oppressive political correctness and identity politics, so it was okay to believe in God and still be educated. 

What is always interesting to me is the “religious preference” part of the chart. Catholics consistently accept God-driven evolution at a higher percentage than protestants. As with previous polls, at least 50% of protestants believe the young earth creation position, although that number appears to be dropping just a bit.  It is encouraging that 45% of those with post-graduate degrees think that evolution occurred but that it was a God-directed process.  Here's to hoping that number increases.