Friday, August 29, 2014

Oldest Complex Fossil Found in Newfoundland

CNN is reporting that a 560 million year-old fossil with muscular tissue has been found in Newfoundland.  I can't embed the video so here is the link.




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

AU Opposes Tax Incentives for Ark Encounter

The organization Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has written a letter to Steve Beshear, the governor of Kentucky, urging him to deny the tax incentives for the Ark Encounter.  WLKY has this:
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said in a letter to Gov. Steve Beshear that the website of Answers in Genesis requires that job applicants agree with its Christian "Statement of Faith."

Americans United officials said an applicant must profess that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality and incest. The group said the policy amounts to discrimination.

The coordinator of the theme park project, Mike Zovath, said hiring policies have not been written.
Not sure what document AU got a hold of, since Zovath essentially is saying that such a document doesn't exist.  It is likely anecdotal for now.  Here is the AU's letter to governor Beshear.

General Distrust for Common Core

Here is an article on the views of the public in general about the Common Core.  The problems identified are a microcosm of federalism as a whole:
“The rush to implement the standards has also led to inadequate support for teachers, inadequate communication with our public and a major pushback from teachers who have connected Common Core with standardized testing,” said Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s state education commissioner, according to U.S. News & World Report. Standardized testing is often criticized for limiting teachers’ classroom flexibility and forcing them to teach to a test that might not benefit students in every state — or even every area of every state.
Also, if the stories are true (and what I have seen corroborates at least some of them) the tests are badly designed, incoherent and rife with errors. Not good.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Opposition to Common Core: A New Trojan Horse?

Despite my general dislike for Common Core and the persistent overreach by the federal government, it seems clear that some groups are using their opposition to the initiative to get ID and creationism in the back door.  Witness the clarification to a proposed bill that would repeal the Common Core in Ohio.  Patrick O'Donnell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes this:
State Rep. Andy Thompson, a Marietta Republican, told The Plain Dealer today that language requiring 80 percent of literature in English classes to be from American or British authors published before 1970 will be removed from HB 597.

Thompson also clarified some unclear language in the bill about science standards that would "prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another." Thompson said that clause prevents teachers and schools from only presenting one side of a political and scientific debate -- global warming, for example -- without also presenting the other side.
And he said the bill gives districts and teachers the freedom to teach religious interpretations of scientific issues as they deem best. That allows "intelligent design" and creationism to be taught alongside evolution, as well as varying views on the age of the earth and whether dinosaurs and people existed at the same time.
Might as well paint a target on your chest.  Opposition to the Common Core has valid concerns and it would be a shame to see the movement hijacked by the the young earth/ID crowd. That would strip it of its credibility as far as the scientific community is concerned and make it just another political cause. This is the "teach the controversy" strategy that was identified by Barbara Forest seven years ago:
In an effort to arouse skepticism regarding evolution as the natural process that has shaped Earth’s life forms, ID proponents falsely claim that there is a controversy within mainstream science regarding the status of evolutionary theory, which they claim is “in crisis,” a “dying theory” (Miller, 2001). Ostensibly intended to stimulate critical thinking by informing students of a raging disagreement among mainstream scientists, this ID slogan violates the most basic requirement of critical thinking: truthfulness. Productive debate about evolution would require, first, that there be a genuine controversy, and second, that all parties to the debate approach the discussion in good faith. ID proponents fail on both counts: (1) There is no controversy in the mainstream scientific community about either the fact of evolution or the major aspects of evolutionary theory. ID is simply perpetuating the cultural controversy surrounding evolution that dates back to the early 20th century. (2) ID proponents enter the debate with a religious agenda that they deny to mainstream audiences but discuss freely with their friendly religious audiences, knowing that their supporters—unlike unknowing potential opponents—will understand their code terms.
This is still, obviously, true today.

More on the story here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ark Encounter Breaks Ground In Kentucky

The construction has begun!  WKYT in Kentucky reports this:
Workers are clearing land in northern Kentucky to build a long-stalled tourist attraction featuring Noah's Ark.

Ken Ham, head of the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis, posted video of the excavation work on his Facebook page this week.

It is the first sign of large-scale construction activity at the site in Grant County since plans for the 510-foot long biblical ark were announced by Answers in Genesis in 2010. The project had been delayed when private donations did not keep pace with the construction timeline.
510 feet? The relevant text in Genesis reads this way:
14So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.
The note at the bottom of this chapter in most bibles indicates that to be 450 feet. On the AiG site, Ham writes that his Ark Encounter will show the ark as a real ship that was seaworthy and that it will be built “according to the dimensions in the Bible.”  He then clearly shows an image of an ark that is 510 feet long.  I wonder why Ham's ark is sixty feet longer? Surely if they are adhering to the literal reading of the passage, this represents a deviation. The biblical (and generally Mesopotamian) cubit was 18 inches long.  It is only if you use the Sumerian cubit of 20.42 that you arrive at the length dimensions of Ham's ark.  So, the (admittedly somewhat jocular) question is, if Ham is so bent on adhering to the letter of the biblical story, why has he gone outside of the Bible for his length measurement?  And, for that matter, since his ark is sixty feet longer, and, according to the picture, he hasn't adjusted his width and height measurements, won't that throw off his hydrodynamics?  This represents almost a 12% increase in length.  Would his ark really be as seaworthy as he says?  For that matter, if your dimensions are not that important, why not make it round?

All right, enough fun for the day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

English Education and the Rise of Islamic Radicalism

The Telegraph is reporting that education secretary Nicky Morgan has stripped kindergarten schools in the United Kingdom that teach creationism of taxpayer funding.  They write:

Any nursery that teaches creationism as scientific fact will be stripped of taxpayer funding. This is unlikely to apply to Christian nurseries as they tend to be more balanced. However large numbers of Muslim nurseries refuse to accept evolution. The rules will bring nurseries into line with schools. A government source stressed: “We are absolutely not saying, 'You can’t teach Bible stories’.”
This is a follow-up to a story that ran on Breitbart London, about the infiltration of the UK school system by radical Islamism.  The story on Breitbart reproduces a statement by Morgan to the Home Secretary, which includes the following:
But what Peter Clarke found is disturbing. His report sets out compelling evidence of a determined effort by people with a shared ideology to gain control of the governing bodies of a small number of schools in Birmingham.

Teachers have said they fear children are learning to be intolerant of difference and diversity. Instead of enjoying a broadening and enriching experience in school, young people are having their horizons narrowed and are being denied the opportunity to flourish in a modern multicultural Britain.

There has been no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism. But there is a clear account in the report of people in positions of influence in these schools, with a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith, who have not promoted fundamental British values and who have failed to challenge the extremist views of others.

Individuals associated with the Park View Educational Trust in particular have destabilised headteachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. Particularly shocking is the evidence of the social media discussion of the Park View Brotherhood group whose actions “betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant Islamist approach which denies the validity of alternative beliefs.”

Evidence collected by Peter Clarke shows that Birmingham City Council was aware of the practices that were subsequently outlined in the “Trojan Horse” letter long before it surfaced.
This is becoming a bit of an identity crisis for England, which has long prided itself on its MultiCulti viewpoint. The problem, of course, is sometimes you welcome viewpoints that have open hostility to yours.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ark Encounter Shouting Match: ‘It’s called the Constitution’

Greg Stumbo, a democrat from the city of Prestonburg, Kentucky, in a press conference, has stated that he is opposed to the tax incentives for the proposed theme park Ark Encounter (Ark-n-Park) on the grounds that it violates the separation of church and state.  Scott Wartman, of Cincinnati.com, writes:
Ark Encounter is a $172 million biblical-themed amusement park planned in Williamstown that will feature a full scale replica of Noah’s Ark. It is a venture of Answers in Genesis, which created the Creation Museum.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, in a press conference Wednesday called the tax credits unconstitutional, because they violated separation of church and state. He believes giving tax credits for a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark will draw lawsuits that could prove expensive for the state.

“It’s called the Constitution,” Stumbo said. “It happens to be the law, and I happen to take an oath to uphold it. I’m not going to vote for anything, and I never have, that is blatantly unconstitutional, no matter how politically popular it is.”
Brian Linder, a Republican, responded:
“While the Speaker has an issue with a religious theme park receiving tax incentives to provide jobs, he apparently has no problem occupying a chair in the House chambers that has, in large letters, the motto “In God We Trust” behind it,” Linder said in the statement. “It is clear that as long as Stumbo occupies that chair, Kentucky will continue to lag behind other states in creating new jobs and boosting our economy.’
In a letter to Kentucky.com, which ran a similar story, Mark Looey, the Chief Commercial Officer of the Ark Encounter, wrote somewhat pithily:
We point out that an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky told USA Today in 2010 that the state should be non-discriminatory toward the Ark Encounter.

We would further suggest that it would be illegal for the state to engage in viewpoint discrimination. In addition, the state is not compelling anyone to visit the Ark Encounter and is not endorsing its content.

Was Kentucky endorsing alcohol consumption when it approved tax refunds for a beer distillery tour project in 2012?
Looey is correct about this.  USA Today ran this tidbit in December of 2010:
American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky staff attorney Bill Sharp said he doesn't see constitutional problems with the state granting tax exemptions for the project.

"Courts have found that giving such tax exemptions on a nondiscriminatory basis does not violate the establishment clause, even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose," Sharp said.
The ACLU doesn't ordinarily end up on the side of religious freedom, it seems, so this is significant, Stumbo’s comments notwithstanding.

Monday, August 11, 2014

David MacMillan: Understanding Creationism VIII

David MacMillan continues his series of posts on being a former young-earth creationist.  This part is personal history about his change of heart and, reading it, it gives me hope about others.  He writes:
All the while, I still maintained that even if evolution could work, it wasn’t fact, because the planet wasn’t old enough. Granted, I could see how the planet could be billions of years old – flood geology was wearing a little thin – but I was still constrained by religious belief to a 6,000-year-old universe. I think I really did know the truth at this point, deep down, but I didn’t feel like I could admit it.
Then I started learning about the history of creationism, and that’s where things started to crack. I learned that the age of the earth had never been a dividing issue in Christianity, not until Morris and Whitcomb plagiarized flood geology from the Seventh Day Adventists in the 1960s. I realized that not even the church fathers saw Genesis 1 as speaking of six actual days. Martin Luther was one of the only six-day creationists in church history, and he also believed geocentrism for the same reasons, so that wasn’t very encouraging. I began to see how there might be problems with the “historical-grammatical” approach to interpreting Genesis. If the creationist leaders were so far wrong about science, why should I expect their treatment of the Bible to be reliable?
This is an area that most young earth creationists don't know much about: the history of their own views.    Whitcomb and Morris' book is a near retread of the work of George MacReady Price and the views derive in large part from the works of Ellen White, the Seventh Day Adventist that lived in the late 1800s.  As Joshua Moritz wrote:
White and her Seventh Day Adventist followers harbored no doubts about the correct reading of the early chapters of Genesis because in a trancelike vision White was ‘‘carried back to the creation’’ by God himself, ‘‘and was shown that the first week, in which God performed the work of creation in six [24 hour] days and rested on the seventh day, was just like every other week.’’ White likewise saw that during Noah’s flood, God created all the various geological layers of sediment and fossils by burying the organic debris and causing ‘‘a powerful wind to pass over the Earth...in some instances carrying away the tops of mountains like mighty avalanches...burying the dead bodies with trees, stones, and earth.’’ Thus, from the divine dreams of Ellen White young earth creationism was born and, ironically, it was conceived in stark opposition to the reigning biblical literalism of the day.
MacMillan closes with some very important tactics to remember, the first one at which I fail miserably.  He writes that we should be patient, but I find that hard to do as I encounter stubborn refusal on the part of creationists to address the evidence with any degree of honesty or integrity (for example, the recent posts on David Menton's human origins AiG article).

He writes that we are to know our enemy and that is not the person we are speaking with but the creationist viewpoint, itself.  This is also true...to a point.  The problem here (and it relates to the previous paragraph) is that even if you can show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the YEC viewpoint is full of holes, the same viewpoint continues to be pressed by its purveyors (e.g. Ken Ham, John Morris). 

If I teach that all cats are red and you show me, categorically, that, no, some cats are red, some cats are blue and some cats are green, and yet I continue to teach that all cats are red, at some point, it becomes a lie.  It doesn't matter how sincere I am or that I tie it to a personal religious belief.  It is still a lie.  David Menton, when faced with mountains of evidence that did not fit his worldview, had two options: to adjust his worldview, or to try to twist the evidence to say things that it did not. He chose the latter. That is part-and-parcel of young earth creationism.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

BioLogos, Ken Ham and David Menton—A Response, Part VI: The Conclusion

This concludes my response to David Menton's post on human origins, which has been a chore to read and respond to. Menton's conclusion is so short, I will post it in its entirety:
Why then are there continued efforts to make apes out of man and man out of apes? In one of the most remarkably frank and candid assessments of the whole subject and the methodology of paleoanthropology, Dr. David Pilbeam (a distinguished professor of anthropology) suggested the following:

Perhaps generations of students of human evolution, including myself, have been flailing about in the dark; that our data base is too sparse, too slippery, for it to be able to mold our theories. Rather the theories are more statements about us and ideology than about the past. Paleoanthropology reveals more about how humans view themselves than it does about how humans came about. But that is heresy.
Oh, that these heretical words were printed as a warning on every textbook, magazine, newspaper article, and statue that presumes to deal with the bestial origin of man!
No, we are not descended from apes. Rather, God created man as the crown of His creation on Day 6. We are a special creation of God, made in His image, to bring Him glory. What a revolution this truth would make if our evolutionized culture truly understood it!
First, David Pilbeam wrote that almost forty years ago, and yet Menton appears to hold it up as current scholarship.  You wouldn't do that in any legitimate scientific discipline.  It may be a good example of “look what we thought back then,” in a historical sense and as compare and contrast but not current thought.  This is a typical young earth creationist tactic: find a useful quote and keep using it, long after it is no longer true or has been debunked.  As such, it is no different than using (or abusing) Solly Zuckerman's quote from the early 1970s.  I saw Duane Gish at the University of Tennessee a few years back he used Zuckerman's quote as well.  Once a quote is found, it makes the rounds.

Pilbeam's quote comes from a review of Richard Leakey's book Origins and is found in the American Scientist (Vol. 66, No. 3, May-June 1978).  Let's see what Pilbeam thinks about palaeoanthropology as of 1995:
The discovery of an australopithecine mandible together with a middle Pliocene fauna 2,500 km west of the Rift Valley considerably extends the known range of these early hominids and raises several interesting issues. The Chad specimen is most similar to its East African contemporary A. afarensis. Nevertheless, in certain features-mandibular morphology, premolar roots and enamel thickness- it differs from the described hypodigm of A. afarensis . Given the genetic and morphological differences now recognized between allopatric populations within, for example, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, Pongo pygmaeus and Papio hamadryas as well as other African mammals, it is not surprising that contemporaneous hominid populations as geographically distant as Chad and Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania would differ in morphology, regardless of whether they are classified as species or subspecies. Here we do not choose to name a new species, recognizing that more detailed comparisons are necessary before the taxonomy of this Bahr el Ghazal hominid can be resolved.1
Here, he and the other authors of the paper clearly feel that the state of the discipline is sound enough to make educated pronouncements about the fossil record.  In all of Pilbeam's papers, it is clear that he is committed “evolutionist.” As with all palaeoanthropologists, he accepts that there may be aspects of the study that are not known or poorly understood but, of the central tenet: that humans have evolved, there is clearly no doubt.  Thirty six years is a long time in the history of a scientific discipline.

How good is our understanding of the human fossil record now?  Here is what another distinguished professor of anthropology, Richard Klein, has to say:
In the absence of fossils, Darwin could not have predicted the fundamental pattern of human evolution, but his evolutionary theory readily accommodates the pattern we now recognize. Probably the most fundamental finding is that the australopithecines, who existed from at least 4.5 million to 2 million years ago, were distinguished from apes primarily by anatomical specializations for habitual bipedalism, and it was only after 2 million years ago that people began to acquire the other traits, including our unusually large brains, that readily distinguish us from the living apes. The greatly expanded fossil record shows that the australopithecines comprised multiple species, and it suggests that our own genus, Homo, descended from one of these about 2.5 million years ago.2
Note the phrase “the greatly expanded fossil record.” Recall the two compendia on this fossil record I mentioned in the first part of this response. Menton clearly is unfamiliar with this record and his attempts to discredit it are shallow, as a result.

To recap:
  • He claims that “evolutionists” just accept similarities between fossil bones of living men and fossilized apes as evidence of ancestry. Such a statement betrays a lack of understanding of homology, functional morphology and the modern study of evolutionary systematics. It glosses over important skeletal structures that arose during our ancestry and which separate our direct ancestors from all apes, fossil or otherwise.
  • He massively under-emphasizes the size of the human fossil record and the complexity of it, simply dismissing it with no examination or explanation.
  • He suggests that research projects cannot be undertaken based on pictures and measurements of fossil hominins.  This is absurd.  There is no scientific discipline that does not rely on published reports.  Moreover, this is a peculiar statement coming from a professor of anatomy, who must have, during his tenure as a professor, read countless articles on aspects of anatomy in which there were published measurements and pictures.  What was he to make of those?  Did they not constitute real research on which he based his own?
  • He mistakenly calls a spider monkey an ape, bringing into question his understanding of basic primate taxonomy.  Further, while his anatomical specialty seems to have been at the cellular level, he betrays a peculiar lack of understanding of human morphological functional interrelatedness by suggesting that the carrying angle of hominins can be dissociated from hip, limb and cranial morphology.  While it may be true that some apes have a similar carrying angle to humans, not a one of them has a foramen magnum at the base of the skull, angled femoral condyles, or a flat, wide pelvis.  Further, these derived traits show up in the fossil record around 3.7 million years ago.  How did he miss these things?  When I took gross anatomy and physiology, I was required to learn not just developmental biology, but functional and comparative morphology.  Has he forgotten his?
  • He writes that Ardipithecus, Orrorin, Sahelanthropus, and Kenyanthropus all have “obviously ape skulls, ape pelvises, and ape hands and feet” despite the fact that only one of these finds preserves the skeletal parts he references. This suggests that he never even bothered to look at the reports detailing these finds.  To make such errant, blanket statements about them is incompetent and sloppy. 
  • He cherry-picks quotes that support his position and ignores ones that do not.  While he calls A. afarensis “long-armed knuckle-walkers” and suggests that palaeoanthropologists Stern and Susman3 argue that it is an ape, he carefully ignores other paragraphs from their article, in which they clearly argue that it is transitional between apes and humans, even using the phrase “missing link.”  He then (again, oddly for an anatomist) ignores other critical morphology of A. afarensis that clearly indicates its transitional status.
  • He writes that Neandertals were considered human but have recently been denigrated to non-human status, when in fact, that is precisely backwards.  From their initial discoveries, Neandertals were considered subhuman4,5 and it has only been within the last thirty years that their relationship to modern humans has been reassessed, inviting claims by some that they represent simply an earlier version of us and incorporating new genetic knowledge of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans6.  
  • Despite Menton's attempts to paint Neandertal/modern human genetic differences as small, they are, in fact, significant enough such that Krings et al.7 made the front pages of the journal Cell, arguing that Neandertals were “not our ancestors.”  Even now, with the advent of evidence of hybridization, the prevailing opinion among palaeoanthropologists is that Neandertals are not within the taxon Homo sapiens sapiens but represent a sister taxon (like the Denisovans, who he ignores completely) with which we had genetic contact. 
This is a badly written post that shows little in the way of actual research.  He seems to misunderstand basic anatomy, gets fossil descriptions wrong, quote-mines to show only what appears to support his position and seems to show no understanding of basic evolutionary biology.  His demeanor is pompous and contemptuous and his treatment of the subject matter invites scorn.

I have absolutely no doubt that Dr. Menton is a bible-believing Christian and that, as such, he is an asset to the kingdom.  I also believe that, like so many other young-earth creationists I am familiar with, he treats the fossil material and the discipline of evolutionary biology with dishonesty and lack of integrity.  This saddens me since it, as with all of creation, reflects the goodness, glory and, importantly, the awesomeness of God.  Further, it is a bad witness and pushes people away from God. 
    1Brunet, M, Beauvilain, A, Coppens, Y, Heintz, E, Moutaye, A, Pilbeam, D. (2014) The first australopithecine 2,500 kilometres west of the Rift Valley (Chad). Nature 378, November 16, 1995
    2Klein, R. G. (2009). Darwin and the recent African origin of modern humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(38), 16007-16009.
    3Stern Jr, J. T., & Susman, R. L. (1983). The locomotor anatomy of Australopithecus afarensis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 60(3), 279-317.
    4Boule, M. (1913). L'homme fossile de La Chapelle-aux-Saints: Masson.
    5Virchow, Rudolf. Untersuchung der Neanderthal Schädels. 1872.
    6For example: Sankararaman S, Patterson N, Li H, Pääbo S, Reich D (2012) The Date of Interbreeding between Neandertals and Modern Humans. PLoS Genet 8(10): e1002947. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002947
    7Krings, M., Stone, A., Schmitz, R. W., Krainitzki, H., Stoneking, M., & Pääbo, S. (1997). Neandertal DNA sequences and the origin of modern humans. Cell, 90(1), 19-30.

    Friday, July 25, 2014

    Blogger seems to have fixed some things but not others.  I restructured it so it would not bleed over.

    Thursday, July 24, 2014

    Blogger seems to be having trouble with its formatting today.  I am not sure what is going on but will try to find out.

    Off-Topic: Heaven & Earth: A Second Listen

    I thought it might grow on me.  Nope, not any better the second time around.  The main problem, in my opinion, seems to be that much of the songwriting has been assumed by Jon Davison and his songwriting is much more AOR-oriented.  That doesn't work for Yes.