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. 

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

    BioLogos, Ken Ham and David Menton—A Response, Part V

    This is part five of the response to David Menton's post on the Answers in Genesis page, on human origins.  It is also a few days late.  We are now to the section that he calls “Making Apes Out of Men.”

    Point 10.  He writes:
    In an effort to fill the gap between apes and men, certain fossil men have been declared to be “apelike” and thus, ancestral to at least “modern” man. You might say this latter effort seeks to make a “monkey” out of man! Human fossils that are claimed to be “apemen” are generally classified under the genus Homo (meaning “man”). These include Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neanderthalensis.
    The best-known human fossils are of Cro-Magnon man (whose marvelous paintings are found on the walls of caves in France) and Neanderthal man. Both are clearly human and have long been classified as Homo sapiens. In recent years, however, Neanderthal man has been downgraded to a different species—Homo neanderthalensis. The story of how Neanderthal man was demoted to an apeman provides much insight into the methods of evolutionists.
    Neanderthal man was first discovered in 1856 by workmen digging in a limestone cave in the Neander valley near Dusseldorf, Germany. The fossil bones were examined by an anatomist (Professor Schaafhausen) who concluded that they were human.
    At first, not much attention was given to these finds, but with the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, the search began for the imagined “apelike ancestors” of man. Darwinians argued that Neanderthal man was an apelike creature, while many critical of Darwin (like the great anatomist Rudolph Virchow) argued that Neanderthals were human in every respect, though some appeared to be suffering from rickets or arthritis. 
    Here he gets things exactly backwards. Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis are not classified by any palaeoanthropologists as “ape men.”  Such a statement is ridiculous on its face.  The reason that those fossil species are in the genus Homo is because they are advanced enough to be placed there.  They are classified as “hominids” or “hominins.”

    He uses the phrase “Cro Magnon man” as if it pertains to all of modern humans.  He reinforces this by remarking on the cave paintings, even though those don't show up until the Upper Palaeolithic, at Chauvet Cave.  He then writes that both Neandertals and modern humans are classified as Homo sapiens, but that in recent years, Neandertals have been “downgraded.”

    Really?  As Dave Frayer1 put it:
    The “Neanderthals are inferior” attitude traces back to their earliest descriptions in the mid-1800s when the first Neanderthal was labeled as “freak” or an “idiot” or “incapable of moral and religious conception.” For many, the discoveries after 1865 confirmed these labels. Even the majority of human paleontologists supported this view.
    That is 160 years ago.  How is that "recently?"  Menton is also wrong that Neandertals were first discovered in the Neander Valley.  That is just where the type-specimen were found. Second, he is wrong about what those who discovered it thought it was.  From my BioLogos post on Neandertals:
    Known far and wide for its limestone, the Neandertal or Neander “Valley” attracted the attention of local industrial groups in the early 1700s and considerable mining was carried out in this area through the middle 1800s. It was during the mining of one such area in 1856, Feldhofer Cave, that workers discovered a set of bones, which they initially thought belonged to a bear. To the local biology teacher, Johann Fulrott, who had been called in to identify them, they looked remarkably human—but not exactly. Something was not quite right. Intrigued by their form, and knowing that they represented something out of the ordinary, he took them to the city of Bonn and showed them to university anatomist Hermann Schaffhausen. After a joint investigation of the skeletal remains, in 1857 Fulrott and Schaffhausen announced to the world that they represented a new form of human predating modern Homo sapiens and with an as yet undetermined relationship with them.
    What they did not know at the time was that the remains from the Feldhofer Cave very closely resembled those that had been removed from the Belgian site of Engis and the Forbes Quarry site in Gibraltar several decades earlier. It was not until 1864 that these remains as a group began to be referred to as “Neandertal Man.”  (King, 1864).
    The La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neandertal was discovered by A. and J. Bouyssonie, and L. Bardon, in 1908.  As Menton notes, in 1911 Marcelin Boule, the French anthropologist, wrote an extensive monograph on it.  Boule was handicapped by an almost overwhelming inability to conceive of these remains as being ancestral to modern humans in any way. Consequently, the publication that emanated from his investigation was rife with errors that it is difficult, in hindsight, to justify or excuse.

    The La Chapelle Neandertal was also an old man. This could be seen from the number of missing teeth and resorption of bone around those that had fallen out. Also present was considerable osteoarthritis, especially in the vertebrae. The arthritis may have made it hard to walk. Boule took this characteristic in the La Chapelle specimen and made it seems as though the Neandertal’s natural gait was slouching and primitive. Boule also focused on the sloping forehead and the huge eyes and nose, arguing that these were primitive. He contended that these features strongly suggested a placement in the evolutionary line little above the great apes, with little to no intelligence that would have linked this race to modern humans (Boule, 1911-1913)2.

    He notes that the “great anatomist” Virchow thought that Neandertals were modern human.  Of this, Drell3 writes:
    The Neanderthal find was made only three years before Darwin published The Origins of Species and thus the discovery of the Neander Valley was seen to verify his theories.6 An ardent debate evolved, centred around Fuhlrott and Hermann Schaaffhausen, who both proposed that the bones were those of an archaic human form. This was in direct opposition to one of Germany’s leading scientists of the era, Rudolf Virchow, a distinguished pathologist who rigorously rejected the hypothesis. In his view, the bones were those of a recently deceased pathological human. Virchow’s viewpoint had a great impact on the following decades of research, not least because of his prominence in Germany. His persistent dismissal of all discovered hominid fossils is thought to have impeded progress for the rest of the century (see Stringer and Gamble 1993; Trinkaus and Shipman 1993).
    Point 11. In his discourse, Menton attempts to portray Neandertals as misunderstood modern humans and that they had completely modern morphology.  This simply is not so.  As Fred Smith, a palaeoanthropologist who has studied Neandertals for decades noted, while there are traits in modern Europeans that are reminiscent of Neandertals here and there, there is no single person alive who bears the entire suite of Neandertal traits.  Harvati4 writes this:
    Neanderthals are characterized by a multitude of distinctive cranial, mandibular, dental, and postcranial anatomical features (Fig. 2), many of which are unique to them. Neanderthals also show several “primitive” features, i.e., features shared with the common ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans
    Here is a graphic example of how modern humans and Neandertals differed.  The skull on the left is a cast of the La Chapelle Neandertal, while the skull on the right is cast of a modern human from the site of Predmosti, dated to around 27, 000 years B.P.




    There are several things to note about this image.  The entire face of the Neandertal is larger than the modern human skull.  Further, the middle of the face is prognathic, or pulled out.  There is a large brow ridge present on the Neandertal that is missing on the modern human.  The Neandertal's teeth are much larger, especially the front ones.  The Neandertal forehead is also more sloped than the modern human one.  Behind the face, the skull of Neandertals is very long and low, while modern humans possess a much more rounded skull.  It was these features that gave rise to the idea that Neandertals were a separate species from modern humans.  They may yet be, although in recent years, it has been found that at some point in their evolutionary history, they interbred with modern humans to some extent.

    In our own analyses5 of Neandertal crania, using as a comparison a modern human sample of over 2500 known modern human individuals from 23 different populations, we found that they never fell within the range of the modern sample.  In fact, every bivariate plot that I produced contained a nice grouping of Neandertals, away from modern humans.  Using this statistical morphological definition of modern human, Neandertals cannot be classified as modern. 

    Point  11.  Menton writes:
    In addition to anatomical evidence, there is a growing body of cultural evidence for the fully human status of Neanderthals. They buried their dead and had elaborate funeral customs that included arranging the body and covering it with flowers. They made a variety of stone tools and worked with skins and leather. A wood flute was recently discovered among Neanderthal remains. There is even evidence that suggests that Neanderthals engaged in medical care. Some Neanderthal specimens show evidence of survival to old age despite numerous wounds, broken bones, blindness, and disease. This suggests that these individuals were cared for and nurtured by others who showed human compassion.

    Still, efforts continue to be made to somehow dehumanize Neanderthal man. Many evolutionists now even insist that Neanderthal man is not even directly related to modern man because of some differences in a small fragment of DNA! There is, in fact, nothing about Neanderthals that is in any way inferior to modern man. One of the world’s foremost authorities on Neanderthal man, Erik Trinkaus, concludes: “Detailed comparisons of Neandertal skeletal remains with those of modern humans have shown that there is nothing in Neandertal anatomy that conclusively indicates locomotor, manipulative, intellectual, or linguistic abilities inferior to those of modern humans.”
    Here, Menton correctly hits on an area that is very controversial in modern palaeoanthropological studies: whether Neandertals were a separate species from anatomically modern Homo sapiens.  He is correct that Neandertals did practice cultural behaviors that we would associate with modern humans, even if they were not on the level of what one finds in the Upper Palaeolithic.  It is, indeed, quite possible that had Neandertals not been subject to the crushing cold and harsh environment of the Wurm glaciation, they might have achieved considerably more than they did.  We will never know.  Regarding the origins of modern humans, there are competing views. 

    On one side of this debate are those who support the multiregional evolution model in which modern humans arose throughout the Old World through a complex interaction of migration, drift and selection between populations.  On the other side are those that argue that modern humans are a completely different species that migrated out of North Africa, "replacing" the archaic humans that they encountered.  It is clear that neither of these extremes is correct.  The earliest modern humans are, indeed, found in Africa and there is evidence that modern humans and archaic humans did, in fact, interbreed to some extent.

    This is a debate that has raged for decades and shows no signs of slowing down.  However, while there is considerable debate between different researchers, as noted above, there are clear anatomical differences between Neandertals and modern humans.

    Point 12. Menton's statement that Neandertals and modern humans are only differentiated, genetically, by “a small fragment of DNA” is false.  The best palaeogenomic evidence for the relationship between modern humans and Neandertals is contained here. Dennis Venema writes:
    Somewhere between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) left Africa and migrated into the Middle East region, and from there on to Europe and parts of Asia. (Recall that human ancestors, at this point, are all still in Africa, and will stay put until around 50,000 years ago). Neanderthals persisted in the Middle East and Europe until ~30,000 years ago, meaning there was a time where the humans leaving Africa about 50,000 years ago could have interbred with them before they went extinct. This remained an open question until techniques improved to recover and sequence ancient DNA. It is now possible to obtain and sequence DNA from Neanderthal remains, and the complete genome sequence of Neanderthals was published in early 2010. The results were fascinating: DNA sequence comparisons between the two species indicates that modern, non-African humans have about 1-4% Neanderthal DNA in their genomes. This variation, however, is not present in sub-Saharan Africans, since they are descended from humans that did not leave Africa and and thereby, because of geographical separation, never had the opportunity to interbreed with Neanderthals. We also know that the group that left Africa went through a reduction in population size to about 1200 individuals (a genetic bottleneck), whereas those that stayed behind maintained a larger population size (about 6000) over the same period.
    I had some additional comments on this as they related directly to the fossil evidence in a different post in the same series here.  Menton may be correct that there is nothing inferior about Neandertals relative to modern man, but that is not the same thing as saying that there is nothing different.  The two clearly were, even if the significance of the the scope and breadth of the differences is under debate.  While earlier authors did not have access to the statistical and genetic tools that we currently do, their eyeball impressions of Neandertals clearly led them to think that they were not modern human.  This is not a case of modern authors projecting primitiveness on them.  They were seen that way out of the box.

    Next, Menton's conclusion.  

    1Frayer, D. W. (2013). Who You Calling a Neanderthal? The New York Times,  May 2, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/opinion/global/Who-Are-You-Calling-a-Neanderthal.html?_r=0

    2Boule, M. (1913). L'homme fossile de La Chapelle-aux-Saints: Masson.

    3Drell, J. R. R. (2000). Neanderthals: A History of Interpretation. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 19(1), 1-24

    4Harvati, K. (2007). Neanderthals and Their Contemporaries. In W. Henke & I. Tattersall (Eds.), Handbook of paleoanthropology (pp. 1717-1748): Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

    5Kidder, J. H., Jantz, R. L., & Smith, F. H. (1992). Defining modern humans: a multivariate approach. In F. H. Smith & G. Bräuer (Eds.), Continuity or replacement (pp. 157-177). Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Disappointed

    The fifth part of the response to David Menton will be here shortly.  In the meantime, I am going off topic.  Here is a review of the new Yes album that I just sent to iTunes:
    I believe that when Yes released “Believe Again,” it was a tactical move because that song sounds the most like traditional Yes.  On the new album, it is the only song that does.  While that is, in and of itself, not necessarily a bad thing, in this case, it is.  It is as if the members consciously went through a process of trying to write a different kind of music for this album just for the sake of doing so.  It doesn’t work.  It really doesn’t work.  Most of the songs are very mild and uninteresting, with no hooks or stand-out playing.  In fact, it is difficult to tell that it is Yes, at all.  Fly From Here didn’t have to grow on me.  From the first chords, you knew exactly who you were listening to and even from the opening track, the album had punch.  This has absolutely none.  The production is flat and there are no sections that reach out and grab you with any power at all.  Even the peculiar “Union” disc had punch, even if the songs were uneven.  Here, the songs are very even—too much so.  Geoff Downes recently said that this line-up has quite a bit of life left in them.  I hope they show more of it the next time around. 
    Now listening to Tales from Topographic Oceans.  Crying a little bit.



    Wednesday, July 16, 2014

    BioLogos, Ken Ham and David Menton—A Response, Part IV

    This is the fourth part of my response to David Menton's post on human origins.  Links to the first three appear below this post.  Menton continues his ham-fisted, ignorant attack on the human fossil record.

    Point 8.  He writes:  
    Many apemen are merely apes that evolutionists have attempted to upscale to fill the gap between apes and men. These include all the australopithecines, as well as a host of other extinct apes such as Ardipithecus, Orrorin, Sahelanthropus, and Kenyanthropus. All have obviously ape skulls, ape pelvises, and ape hands and feet. Nevertheless, australopithecines (especially Australopithecus afarensis) are often portrayed as having hands and feet identical to modern man; a ramrod-straight, upright posture; and a human gait.

    The best-known specimen of A. afarensis is the fossil commonly known as “Lucy.” A life-like mannequin of “Lucy” in the Living World exhibit at the St. Louis Zoo shows a hairy, humanlike female body with human hands and feet but with an obviously apelike head. The three-foot-tall Lucy stands erect in a deeply pensive pose with her right forefinger curled under her chin, her eyes gazing off into the distance as if she were contemplating the mind of Newton.

    Few visitors are aware that this is a gross misrepresentation of what is known about the fossil ape Australopithecus afarensis. These apes are known to be long-armed knuckle-walkers with locking wrists. Both the hands and feet of this creature are clearly apelike. Paleoanthropologists Jack Stern and Randall Sussman2 have reported that the hands of this species are “surprisingly similar to hands found in the small end of the pygmy chimpanzee–common chimpanzee range.” They report that the feet, like the hands, are “long, curved and heavily muscled” much like those of living tree-dwelling primates. The authors conclude that no living primate has such hands and feet “for any purpose other than to meet the demands of full or part-time arboreal (tree-dwelling) life.” 
    Some background involving the Miocene apes. At the beginning of the Miocene epoch, apes had largely generalized skeletal structures, with few of the adaptations that we see in the modern apes, or in humans.  Toward the end of the Miocene, biomechanical adaptations are seen in many of the apes.  For example, Oreopithecus has developed a locomotor pattern seen in modern non-human apes (although it was mis-identified by Casey Luskin as bipedal).

    Menton, having taken us through the differences between apes and humans, suggests that Ardipithecus, Orrorin, Sahelanthropus and Kenyanthropus all have “obviously ape skulls, ape pelvises, and ape hands and feet.”

    Really?
    • Kenyanthropus consists of a single skull find that is so badly crushed that most researchers have pretty much written it off as being unusable in taxonomic reconstruction.
    • Sahelanthropus is also a single skull find that was also crushed and may, in fact, be a surface find.
    • Orrorin tugenensis is a collection of post-cranial remains, the most important of which is a partial femur, which showed clear adaptations toward bipedality. 
    • Ardipithecus ramidus consists of both cranial and post-cranial remains, including both hands and feet.  Here is what Owen Lovejoy and colleagues wrote about it in 2009:
    The gluteal muscles had been repositioned so that Ar. Ramidus could walk without shifting its center of mass from side to side. This is made clear not only by the shape of its ilium, but by the appearance of a special growth site unique to hominids among all primates (the anterior inferior iliac spine). However, its lower pelvis was still almost entirely ape-like, presumably because it still had massive hindlimb muscles for active climbing.
    How does Menton describe the locomotion of modern apes?  He writes:
    These animals manage to keep their weight over their feet when walking by swinging their body from side to side in the familiar “ape walk.” 
    Yet he calls Ardipithecus “merely” an ape. By his own description, Ardipithecus is clearly not “merely” an ape. Did he just miss this detail, or did he simply choose not to include it?

    To recap this point,  he writes that all of the finds he mentions have “obviously ape skulls, ape pelvises, and ape hands and feet,” and yet we find that only one of the finds has those body parts preserved.  He, further, ignores critical morphology on the Ardipithecus remains to make it seem as if it has no hominin adaptations.  How are we to believe what he writes when he so incompetently describes the fossils he is denigrating?

    Point 9: In quoting Stern and Susman, here, again, Menton picks and chooses what he wants to use and doesn't tell his audience other critical information that undercuts his position.  Menton writes as if Australopithecus afarensis were only an ape, yet Stern and Susman write, in their conclusion:
    In our opinion A. afarensis is very close to what can be called a “missing link.” It possesses a combination of traits entirely appropriate for an animal that had traveled well down the road toward full-time bipedality, but which retained structural features that enabled it to use the trees efficiently for feeding, resting, sleeping, or escape. prior to the discovery of the Hadar remains, one could not have predicted precisely what combination of traits would be found in a transitional form such as A. afarensis.
    These writers, who, unlike Menton, examined the remains directly, clearly did not conclude it was merely an ape but, in fact, a transitional form between the apes that came before, and the hominins that came after.

    But worse, Menton completely ignores other characteristics of A. afarensis that don't just undercut his position that it is merely an ape, they destroy it. 

    • The first premolar in apes (or bicuspid if you prefer) is long and rotated toward the front of the mouth. This is so it can constantly sharpen the maxillary canine as the ape bites down. This is known as a "sectorial premolar". In humans, this tooth is rotated so that the cusp division is parallel to the tooth row and does not stick up beyond it. The maxillary canine is, correspondingly, short. In Australopithecus afarensis, this tooth is rotated HALF-WAY and partially sticks up from the tooth row. The canine is shortened as in modern humans.
    • The palate of the mouth in apes is shaped like a hard "U" with the back teeth parallel to each other. In humans, the palate is more "V" shaped. In A. afarensis, it is intermediate between these two shapes.
    • In apes, there is a distinct space between the canine and the first premolar, called a diastema. In humans, this space is absent. In A. afarensis, a diastema is present but it is remarkably reduced in size over the ape condition.
    In other instances, some characteristics are completely ape-like and some are completely human-like. For example:
    • The digits (phalanges) on both the hands and feet are curved, as in apes. In humans, they are straight.
    • The pelvis is flared (wide from side to side) and short from top to bottom, as in humans.
    • The hole in the skull where the spinal chord exits the brain, the foramen magnum, is located on the bottom of the skull in Australopithecus afarensis, as in humans.  Having a hole at the base reflects a bipedal gait.
    • the knee joint, which preserves the bottom (distal) section of the femur and the top (proximal) section of the tibia shows that the femur is angled, as in humans. This is the "carrying angle" of which Menton wrote. The A. afarensis position, once again, reflects bipedalism.
    These characteristics are exactly what you would expect to find in a transitional species: some characteristics transitional, some ape-like and some human-like. Most of the above information was taken from Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind and Johanson et al. (1982) but can be found in most textbooks about this subject.  It is amazing that Menton went to no effort to locate this information before dismissing A. afarensis' transitional status without thought.    It is, further, amazing that Ken Ham would hold Menton's post up as being authoritative when it is so badly researched and written.

    More tomorrow.