Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gordon Glover on Alien Intervention

There is a guest post over at Science and the Sacred by Gordon Glover. It dates back to the beginning of the month and I meant to post about it then but it got away from me. Gordon is, as usual, very thoughtful in the essay as he tackles the logic of Intelligent Design, using the same tactics one of the professors on my dissertation committee used: posit something perfectly harmless and then blow it full of holes. He writes:
On the surface, Intelligent Design seems to be a perfectly reasonable approach to studying complexity. In our everyday experience, there is certainly nothing controversial about attributing the purposeful arrangement of components to an intelligent agent.

This is often the idea that sucks most people into the acceptance of intelligent design. It is the argument that William Paley made in the 1820s—that so many things in nature showed the unmistakable signs of having been designed. This is the idea that Charles Darwin reverse-engineered once Charles Lyell provided him with all the time in the world, and Thomas Malthus provided him with a biological imperative.

Gordon uses the creation of Stonehenge to illustrate the problem of admitting ID into the arena of science. Problems in explaining how the stones got where they are abound and easy solutions are not forthcoming. That does not stop modern archaeologists from using the best available science to solve the problem. So where does ID enter?
But mainstream archaeology is content to treat these knowledge gaps in our understanding of the past as simply that, and NOT as proof that primitive man had some outside help. Besides, who or what else could possibly have intervened during the building of these ancient structures?

Oh, ye narrow-minded expert! Hath not thou considered the alien? Why bias your investigation of archaeological complexity towards earth-bound engineers?

Enter the alien enthusiasts. Not the dispassionate ones who merely concede the possibility of life outside of our solar system (a viewpoint that many scientists would share), but the hardcore fanatics. You know who I'm talking about. The ones who spend their summer vacations dressed up as aliens in Roswell, New Mexico. The true believer wants the world to acknowledge not just the probability of extra-terrestrial life, but that intelligent beings from outer space have physically visited earth and made contact with mankind. So they search out the mysteries of the ancient world looking for opportunities to preach their UFO gospel. There might not be any credible evidence of UFO visitations to planet Earth, but if there are questions that mainstream archaeology can't sufficiently answer, you can guarantee that alien believers will plug E.T. into these gaps. Does this strategy sound familiar?

Why, yes it does. It is the primary strategy that is used by those promoting Intelligent Design. This is the same strategy that allows a scientist like Michael Behe, one of the primary supporters of teaching Intelligent Design, to sit in front of a judge and say that under his definition of science, astrology would qualify. Just because we don't know why something happened, does not mean that we can posit an explanation that cannot be hypothetically tested and call it science.

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Ida May Not Be Related to Humans After All

The Guardian is reporting work being published in Nature suggesting that Ida is not on the line that gave rise to the higher primates. The story, by Ian Sample states:

"Our analysis and results have convinced us that Ida was not an ancestor of monkeys, apes, or humans, and if anything has more relevance for our understanding of lemur and loris origins," said Erik Seiffert, a fossil hunter at Stony Brook University in New York who led the Nature study.

Researchers behind the Ida fossil, known formally as Darwinius masillae, immediately defended their own interpretation, which is based on two years of meticulous measurements of the remains.

"We expected a challenge like this and it's interesting it has taken five months for the first attack to come," said Jørn Hurum, a palaeontologist at Oslo University's Natural History Museum where the fossil is now lodged. "What we claim about Ida is really quite controversial."

So controversial, in fact, that it might be wrong. Which ever way this one goes, it will be a classic example of science in action. Palaeoanthropologists have no vested interest in whether or not Ida is an ancestor to humans. This research will, however, provide us with a good example of a primate that was running around c. 50 million years ago. Hopefully, more discoveries will allow us to see how she fit into the grand scheme of things.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum

Donna Healy of the AP writes about a museum out in Montana that is giving the Creation Museum in Kentucky a run for its money. From the story:
The head and monstrous jaws of a tyrannosaurus rex sculpture poke through the outer wall of the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum.

Inside, life-size castings of dinosaur skeletons offer the polished look of a big-city science museum. But a quote from Genesis clues in visitors that the 20,000-square-foot building, which opened in Glendive this summer, is not your standard natural-history museum.

Instead, the museum, located in an area of Montana known for world-class dinosaur fossils, offers a literal, biblical account of creation.

What follows is a lengthy description of the museum and how it came about. The focus is clear:
"We approach evolution on the basis that it's basically not possible," Kline said. "There is no scientific proof whatsoever that evolution has ever taken place. There's also no scientific proof that creation has taken place because they both are faith-based."

Nearby is a replica of a protostega gigas, a giant sea turtle measuring 16 feet from flipper to flipper. Similar fossils have been found in Kansas.

"There's two ways these fossils could get to Kansas, and one is the evolutionary way; the other is the biblical creation way," Kline said.

"The evolutionary way says there was an inland sea that came from the Gulf of Mexico. But the biblical creation way says it was the flood of Noah's day."
As I and so many before me have mentioned, the evidence that Noah's flood was never a world-wide event is so overwhelming as to be almost certain. And, if everything did die in the flood except the pair on the ark, how did the sea turtle get to Kansas, especially if, as it says in Genesis 8:13: "the water had dried up from the earth?" So much misinformation, spread to so many people.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

...And the Small Ones

Analysis out of Germany has identified the smallest known dinosaur. An article in the BBC notes:

Fruitadens haagarorum, researchers say, is one of the smallest dinosaurs known to science.

In the Royal Society journal Proceedings B, the researchers say that the dinosaur weighed less that 1kg.

The fossils have been housed at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County since being discovered in Colorado in 1979.

According to the researchers, the tiny dinosaur was agile and a fast runner. It lived in the Upper Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago.

It was a member of a group of dinosaurs called the ornithischians, which were largely plant-eating creatures that included the far more imposing Triceratops and Stegosaurus.

Here is the picture of the jaw from the BBC article:


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Thursday, October 22, 2009

More on the Burgess Shale.

After my post on the work that is being done on the Burgess Shale, a reader wrote to accuse me of dishonesty in providing the story. I was going to reply within the comments section but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it probably needs to be a post. This is what the reader wrote:
You didn't tell the whole truth. The Cambrian has starfish, jellyfish, sponges and clams to name a few have not change a bit in 530 million years.

The fact that some of the other species are now extinct is beside the point.

The argument by Creationists is that life sprang into existence! There is nothing that has been found in the pre-Cambrian that can explain the explosion of life in the Cambrian.

Why are Darwinians so dishonest?

Thanks for the article even though it is very misleading.
Dear reader, my point was not to say that there are some forms of life that have remained unchanged. My point was to show that the life in the Cambrian appears over the course of some 30-50 million years. This is not exactly springing into existence. As I mentioned in another post, to put this into perspective, 30-50 million years ago there were no whales, no bears, no modern cats, no modern dogs and no humans. In fact, humans aren't even recognizable 10 million years ago. 30-50 million years in geological terms is a short period. For biological organisms, it is a pile of years. As far as your argument that life "sprang into existence," lets see what Duane Gish has to say:
In the Cambrian geological strata there occurs a sudden, great outburst of fossils of animals on a highly developed level of complexity. In the Cambrian rocks are found billions of fossils of animals so complex that the evolutionists estimate they would have required one and a half billion years to evolve. Trilobites, brachiopods, sponges, corals, jellyfish, in fact every one of the major invertebrate forms of life are found in the Cambrian. What is found in rocks supposedly older than the Cambrian, that is in the so-called pre-Cambrian rocks? Not a single indisputable fossil! Certainly it can be said without fear of contradiction, the evolutionary predecessors of the Cambrian fauna have never been found.
Gish is absolutely incorrect about what is found in the pre-Cambrian rocks. There are extremely well-described fossils, many of which (but not all) can be shown to be ancestral to Cambrian forms. While it is true that Trilobites appear in the early Cambrian, they do not diversify into the nearly 17 000 species they eventually become until late in the Cambrian.

Regarding your comment about nothing being found in pre-Cambrian sediments that can explain the explosion of life in the Cambrian, I found over 1700 articles arguing to the contrary in one pass. Here is what just one, Peterson et al. (2008) has to say about it:
Despite the presence of many different stem-group taxa, the Ediacaran is still a transitional ecology, with these organisms confined to a two-dimensional mat world. This stands in dramatic contrast to the Early Cambrian where the multi-tiered food webs that so typify the Phanerozoic were established with the eumetazoan invasion of both the pelagos and the infaunal benthos (Butterfield 1997, 2001; Vannier & Chen 2000, 2005; Dzik 2005; Peterson et al. 2005; Vannier et al. 2007). Hence, although the Ediacaran is an apparent quantum leap in ecological complexity as compared with the ‘boring billions’ that characterize Earth before the Ediacaran, it is still relatively simple when compared with the Cambrian, yet another quantum leap in organismal and ecological evolution. Thus, the Ediacaran stands as the transition interval between the ‘Precambrian’ and the Phanerozoic.1
So the question I have to ask is, after reading the article about someone who is out in the field, actually examining the data, how can you accuse him of dishonesty? Furthermore, why would I believe someone who has never actually looked at the data over someone who is intimately involved with it and publishing about it? Now who is being dishonest?

1Peterson, K.J., Cotton J.A., Gehling, J.G. and Pisani, D. (2008) The Ediacaran emergence of bilaterians: congruence between the genetic and the geological fossil records. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 2008 363, 1435-1443

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Evolution and Evangelical Theology

Steve Martin, over at An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution, has a post about the acceptance of evolution by evangelican theologians. In it, he mentions a survey that was done for the BioLogos Foundation by Bruce Waltke in which acceptance of evolutionary and intelligent design explanations were polled. According to the survey, which is quite long, 264 evangelical professors rang in and answered the questions. Among the more surprising findings:
Fifth Barrier: Evolution is bad science because of YEC theory
Only 19% of the participants accept the scientific evidence such as those presented by ICR to defend a straight-forward reading of Genesis. This is especially surprising since some evangelical schools, such as Liberty University, require their faculty to adhere to YEC.
I, also, would have thought that this number would be higher, given the overwhelming prevalence of the YEC position in evangelical churches, school curricula and the evangelical public.
Seventh Barrier: ID refutes evolution
Those who contend for the theory of creation by the process of evolution must address the 37% that find intelligent design refutes evolution at the least on the molecular [sic—the word "level" is omitted here]. This position presumably garnered the support of a relatively larger ratio of the respondents than the arguments of ICR and RTB for several reasons: 1.) ID presents more credible scientific arguments, 2) is a better apologetic against naturalistic evolution; and 3) comports better with the Biblical data as a whole, such as belief in a Creator, the fixed speciation and the uniqueness of humankind.
On the other hand, that means that 63% have issues with the argument of Intelligent Design as made by I.D. purveyors. The author concludes thus:
First, this survey and the survey by Badger and Tenneson (see Appendix II) shatter the caricature of evangelicalism in the media and the populace as demanding the theory of YEC.
Correlatively, the fact that 46% can accept the theory of creation by evolution confirms my suspicion that on the issue of evolution one cannot speak of a typical evangelical theologian.
Third, the organizations seeking to refute evolution and/or to narrow the gap between creation and evolution must address one another with respect and openness to be optimally effective. The gap between BioLogos and ID, I suggest, can best be narrowed by open dialogue, not by entrenched confrontation.
It is easy for those of us that accept evolution to paint the entire evangelical community as being monolithic in this regard. It seems evident that the new atheists see it as such. This is refreshing and hopeful. Just as I said yesterday that, as an evolutionist, Richard Dawkins does not speak for me, I can also say today that, as a Christian, Henry Morris does not speak for me, either!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cretaceous Extinction: The Smoking Gun?

Canwest is reporting on research by Sankar Chatterjee, of Texas Tech University, who claims to have found the impact crater that led to the dinosaur extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period. They write:
The area is about 500 kilometres in diameter and encircles a peak about five kilometres high known as the Bombay High. It is also a spot mined extensively for oil and gas by companies that tend to keep their geological data secret, which has delayed the ability of researchers to do any in-depth research of the suspected crater.
A bit later, they write:
Chatterjee said the crater is likely the largest on the planet and was caused by an object about 40 kilometres in diameter. The energy released on impact would dwarf the detonation of all nuclear weapons on Earth combined, he said. The impact caused what's known as the "KT Extinction Event," a combination of blast effects that killed off 70 per cent of life on the planet 65 million years ago. Other researchers say more study is needed.
This will rattle some cages. Common consensus is that the Chicxulub crater off the Yucatan peninsula is the impact point for the KT extinction event. Others still argue that the dinosaurs were in steep decline even before either of these impacts took place.

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Work at the Burgess Shale Formation

Siobhan Roberts of is reporting on work that is going on at the Burgess Shale formation in Canada. They write:

The Burgess Shale is Mecca for paleontologists. Charles Doolittle Walcott, the fourth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, discovered this rich fossil bed a century ago, in the summer of 1909, and named it for nearby Mount Burgess. At the end of his first field season here, Walcott wrote in a letter to a colleague that he had "found some very interesting things." Talk about understatement. The Burgess fossils tell nothing less than the story of the Cambrian explosion—evolution's Big Bang—when relatively simple organisms rapidly diversified into the sorts of animals that live today. The exquisitely preserved Burgess specimens (most likely entombed by underwater mudslides) include the remnants of soft-bodied organisms, which are rare in the fossil record. The animals inhabited the ocean floor 505 million years ago, near the end of the Cambrian Period.

"Most of the phyla we know today we can see already in the Cambrian and the animals of the Burgess Shale," said Caron. But the fossils still look very strange. "They certainly show evidence of evolution," Caron said. "The animals that you see there don't look like the ones we have today."

This is critical to an understanding of the Cambrian Explosion, that the animals alive during this time largely don't resemble animals alive today. How strange were they?
In 1989, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould popularized Burgess' "weird wonders" in his bestselling book Wonderful Life. But he argued that Walcott [the discoverer of the formation] had erroneously shoehorned the fossils into existing taxonomic groups. He suggested that the curious "problematica" fossils that had long defied scientific identification—such as Hallucigenia, an inch-long creature with two rows of spines on its back—deserved their own taxonomic groupings.
Things to keep in mind the next time a creationist says that all of the modern phyla arrived fully formed at the beginning of the Cambrian.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Money for Footprints

ABC News of Australia is reporting that a fossil site yielding a trove of dinosaur footprints is getting a financial boost from the government to continue the work at the site. That is good news. Chrissy Arthur writes:

Lark Quarry, near Winton, attracts about 20,000 visitors a year to see thousands of fossilised dinosaur footprints - believed to be 95 million-years-old.

Heritage Minister Peter Garrett has announced funding for the quarry's conservation park to improve toilets and waste management at the site.

Winton Mayor Ed Warren says it is long overdue.

"It's the only preserved site in the world that's a recording of dinosaur footprints and we've got to have strategies in place to try and look after it and preserve the area for people to come and view this wonderful expanse of dinosaur footprints," he said.

So, the question that is lurking at the back of my mind is "how do flood geologists explain all of those footprints?"

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Darwin's Dilemma Is On!

The film Darwin's Dilemma, which was originally going to be shown at the California Science Center is now going to be shown at the University of Southern California.

Guess that shoots the First Amendment argument in the head, doesn't it?

The press release from the Discovery Institute is here. It is still full of nonsense, however:
Filmed on four continents, Darwin's Dilemma examines some of the most important fossil discoveries ever made and with them, a mystery deeper than Charles Darwin ever imagined. For the fossil record of the Cambrian Explosion does not reveal the gradual development of life forms as Darwin posited in his work, but a period in which compound eyes, articulated limbs, sophisticated sensory organs and skeletal frames burst into existence seemingly out of nowhere. Produced by Illustra Films Directed by Lad Allen. To read more about the movie go to Following the premiere will be a panel discussion featuring Lad Allen (director), Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and David Berlinski, author of The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions.
It would be fun to go to it but I don't have 1500 dollars just lying around so I will have to catch it in reruns.
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Yes, but Why Do They Have to Be Evolutionary Biologists?

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty has a piece on the problems that the new atheism is creating. Witness this:

Last month, atheists marked Blasphemy Day at gatherings around the world, and celebrated the freedom to denigrate and insult religion.

Some offered to trade pornography for Bibles. Others de-baptized people with hair dryers. And in Washington, D.C., an art exhibit opened that shows, among other paintings, one entitled Divine Wine, where Jesus, on the cross, has blood flowing from his wound into a wine bottle.

Another, Jesus Paints His Nails, shows an effeminate Jesus after the crucifixion, applying polish to the nails that attach his hands to the cross.

How juvenile. That is the problem that some atheists are having with the movement and where it is going. The article continues:
"I wouldn't want this on my wall," says Stuart Jordan, an atheist who advises the evidence-based group Center for Inquiry on policy issues. The Center for Inquiry hosted the art show.

Jordan says the exhibit created a firestorm from offended believers, and he can understand why. But, he says, the controversy over this exhibit goes way beyond Blasphemy Day. It's about the future of the atheist movement — and whether to adopt the "new atheist" approach — a more aggressive, often belittling posture toward religious believers.
One of the problems that I see is that many of these atheists are being led by people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and P.Z. Myers, two of which are influential evolutionary biologists. This becomes the public face of evolution, not the people like Francis Collins, Francisco Ayala, Kenneth Miller (who is a tad adversarial, himself) and others.

Okay, here's where I get into trouble. I look at people like Myers, Dawkins and Hitchens and can see why they have said "enough is enough!" They see Christianity not as the "love the Lord your God with all your heart, World Vision, Mother Theresa, feed the homeless, Sermon on the Mount, and care for the needy" entity that it should be and often is. They see it as (As Michael Dowd would say) the "flat-earth religion of scientifically illiterate school boards and conservative politicians, the purveyors of bad home school education, and the uneducated masses"; something to be done away with. I still think that they are wrong to do this and I pray that some of them will come to know the Lord, but the reaction was predictable.

As I said in another post, though, what this does is entrench Christians in their beliefs and they turn and focus their anger on the one thing they can see: evolution. This is where Steve Martin's Evangelical Statement on Evolution becomes absolutely essential. Somehow, the word has to get out that there are scientists out there for whom Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers do not speak.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

More Problems for the Dembski/Marks Paper

The Metropolis Sample takes the most recent swipe at the Dembski/Marks paper here. The paper is extraordinarily mathematical (imagine that!) and way over my pay grade, but the conclusions are clear:
The fundamental lesson here is that the Dembski-Marks approach to evaluating model assumptions is both arbitrary and a poor reflection of scientific reasoning. Model assumptions are not accepted or rejected based on a numerical measure of how many logical possibilities that are ruled out or how far probability distributions deviate from uniform measures. Rather, model assumptions are accepted or rejected based on predictive and descriptive accuracy, domain of applicability, ability to unify existing models and empirical knowledge, and so on. Merely talking about target sets requires assumptions that impose structure on the search space and processes related to it. Dembski and Marks (2009a) mention “a simple self-replicating molecule, an autocatalytic set, or a lipid membrane” as examples of biological targets. However, these chemical concepts presuppose model assumptions from physics, chemistry and biochemistry and they could hardly be independent of the chemical processes by which they are thought to arise.
As others have stated, Dembski and Marks do not understand how biological systems operate and how selection operates. This hampers their ability to correctly model a biosphere.

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Michael Dowd has Cancer

Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution, has cancer. It is apparently of the the very serious kind as he has been given a 50% chance of living 2-3 years. His newest report is here but I have had trouble getting the link to work. Please send your thoughts and prayers to him and his wife, Connie.

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Casey Luskin and Ardipithecus

Much to my chagrin, I missed this a few weeks back, when Casey Luskin put up an article on the new Ardipithecus remains. Hyperbollically titled Artificially Reconstructed “Ardi” Overturns Prevailing Evolutionary Hypotheses of Human Evolution, Luskin writes:
The missing link presently being touted in the media, Ardipithecus ramidus, has had more reconstructive surgery than Michael Jackson. Assuming that their "extensive digital reconstruction" of its "badly crushed and distorted bones" is accurate, what does A. ramidus (or “Ardi” as the fawning media is affectionately calling it) really show us that we didn’t already know? We already knew of upright walking / tree-climbing, small-brained hominids—that’s what Lucy, an australopithecine, was. We already knew that there were australopithecine fossils dating back to before 4 million years, and this fossil is only a little bit older. So what does this fossil teach us? Assuming all the reconstructions of Ardi's crushed bones are objective and accurate, this fossil teaches us at least one very important thing: prevailing evolutionary explanations about how upright walking supposedly evolved in humans, confidently taught in countless college-level anthropology classes, were basically wrong.
The Ardipithecus remains were painstakingly reconstructed over a period of ten years, during which clues about her morphology were extracted. Mr. Luskin is not correct in his assertion that we already knew about australopithecine fossils before 4 gigayears ago. The earliest clear evidence that we had for bipedality dated to around 3.6 mya. It is clear that bipedality was established by that time but we didn't have anything before that. The description of the Ardipithecus remains tells us that bipedality was incipient 4.4 mya.

He is also wrong about what was being taught. It has never been clear how bipedality arose and there have been competing models to explain its development that have been nothing more than hypothetical because we didn't have anything to test them on. The most popular model was the "forest/fringe" model in which bipedality arose as the climate cooled and the savannas expanded. The precursors of the Gorillas and Chimpanzees adapted to the forest proper, while the baboons and their ilk took to the grasslands. That left the area in between where a hominid could develop that could take advantage of both. Guess what? That model turned out to be wrong. So what? Now we know that bipedality arose in a forested environment and our models can proceed from that knowledge. That is how science works. It learns from its mistakes.

Luskin is also wrong about what else it tells us. It tells us that this early biped was also completely adapted to the trees, and was, thus, in a position to take advantage of the shrinking forests when the dessication began around 4 mya. We still don't know exactly how bipedality developed, but we know that it did.

Luskin also writes:
It’s rarely discussed, but there are a number of upright-walking, forest-dwelling ape-like species known from prior to 10 million years ago that are thought to be far removed from human ancestors. This implies that bipedalism in a hominoid does not necessarily qualify an individual as a human ancestor, and it also casts doubt on classical explanations for the evolution of bipedalism.
WHAT???? Which ape-like species is he talking about? There are absolutely no bipedal apes of any kind in the Miocene prior to seven million years ago. If there had been, this would have been huge news! He, of course, cites no information here. It isn't rarely discussed. Its not discussed at all!! I have written Mr. Luskin and asked him which remains he is referring to. I know it ain't Dryopithecus, Sivapithecus, Oreopithecus, Kenyapithecus or Gigantopithecus.

Luskin, correctly, does point out that there is some skepticism in the palaeoanthropological community about whether the case for bipedality holds up, notably from Bill Jungers at Stony Brook and Bernard Wood, at GW, in Washington, D.C., although Wood states that the head has better evidence for bipedality. This is, perhaps, true and we do need to be cautious about hanging our hats on one specimen, but the evidence, as presented by White, Asfaw and Lovejoy, is compelling. Luskin concludes thus:
So what do we have with “Ardi”? We have an extremely crushed “Irish stew” fossil that has undergone extensive reconstruction in order to become part of a PR campaign to make bold claims of ancestral status to the human line, even though at base its qualities are very similar to previously known fossils, and there's a lot of skepticism about the claims being made. In other words, we have the typical media circus that we find every time a new "missing link" is found.
For one thing, Luskin has just finished saying our models are wrong. The only reason that our models are wrong is because Ardipithecus ramidus isn't similar to other previously known fossils. That is why it is generating the buzz. The remains are completely, radically, different from the fossils that we have that come after, when bipedality is firmly established. The only reason it became part of a PR campaign at all is because it was so unusual. Hundreds of fossils have been yanked out of the ground in the last decade, none of which made the front page because they confirmed what we had already suspected about human evolution. Ardipithecus ramidus didn't. It suggested new things to think about and new models to work from. That is how science proceeds. Casey Luskin doesn't seem to like that.

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Students and Evolution

Steve Martin, over at An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution, writes about a new series on evolution from the viewpoint of students. The introductory post is here. Steve writes:
In this series five evangelical students will be sharing their personal perspectives on the science-faith dialogue. This is a series by students and for students. So if you know of any students for which this topic is (or should be) of some interest, please feel free to pass the message along. (Of course, this being an open forum, everyone can participate – even those like me whose student career is but a distant memory - yikes, those 20 years went fast!).
Stay Tuned.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Casey Luskin, Darwin's Dilemma and the First Amendment

Casey Luskin has a piece on the "brouhaha" that has erupted over the canceled presentation of the ID-promoting film Darwin's Dilemma at the California Science Center, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. He makes a case that the "Darwinian Thought Police" swooped in and made such a stink that the center canceled the event.

In the process of giving us some background, Luskin tells us what, at this point, can only be called a lie about the Cambrian explosion. He writes this:
There are two ways that modern evolutionists approach the Cambrian explosion, or what has been called “Darwin’s dilemma”:

A. Some freely acknowledge that the Cambrian fossil evidence essentially shows the opposite of what was expected under neo-Darwinian evolution.

B. Others deal with the Cambrian explosion by sweeping its problems under the rug and trying to change the subject.

Succumbing to pressure from Darwinian elites, the California Science Center chose option B.
If Luskin had done any research about the Cambrian explosion, he would know that this isn't true. I have posted about that here, and here. There is also a good post at Pharyngula about it. P.Z. Myers characterizes it thus:

But another important lesson, and one that creationists like to hide, is that while this was a sudden event in a geological sense, it wasn't actually all that rapid in human terms. The evolution of the canonical Cambrian forms was drawn out over tens of millions of years. They didn't just come out of nowhere, either; while individual lineages are cryptic, we see a slow aggregate increase in the complexity of multicellular animals in the fossil record that culminated in the flowering of large-animal diversity in the Cambrian.

I've had many creationists try to use the Argument from the Cambrian Explosion as a fait accompli against evolution (most recently, just this week). It's actually an argument from ignorance, though, since the data certainly does not fit a sudden creation by divine or alien fiat. It does fit with the idea of the appearance of these animals as a product of prior history, though…even though there are many mysteries about the details, the big picture does not require miracles or the supernatural.

To put this time-frame into perspective, humans weren't even on the planet ten million years ago.

So, this little fact sort of hits Luskin's credibility while he is trying to make his impassioned plea. Onward. About the Smithsonian, he writes:
The California Science Center is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, which has a long history of opposing academic freedom for ID.

In 2004, a pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific article authored by Stephen Meyer was published in a Smithsonian-affiliated biology journal. Once the Biological Society of Washington (BSW) realized it had published a pro-ID paper, it repudiated Meyer’s article, alleging the paper “does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings.” Of course the BSW cited no factual errors in the paper; they just didn’t like Meyer’s conclusions.
Well, no that's quite right either. This has since become known as the "Sternberg Peer-Review Controversy," and was featured in the movie Expelled! as an instance of academic censorship. The paper by Meyer was called The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories1 and was, according to Sternberg, peer-reviewed by himself and three other reviewers, although he has never identified who they were. A statement was released by the Council of the Biological Society of Washington disavowing the paper and its contents. Subsequently, it was criticized by a number of authors, one of which was Robert Weitzel, who argued that Meyer had improperly made use of William Dembski's specified complexity, a concept that has been roundly criticized (recently, in fact) as being both inappropriate for biological systems (here and here) and for being mathematically fuzzy. Common speculation is that Meyer's article would have not made it through the first round of review had it undergone the normal peer-review process. I have read this article. Like the recent Dembski/Marks article on specified complexity, it makes unwarranted conclusions about the nature of the data. Luskin is absolutely correct that they didn't like the conclusions of the paper. Unfortunately, he completely mischaracterizes why.

Luskin continues:
The story picks up in 2006, when a congressional staff investigation found that "Smithsonian's top officials permit[ted] the demotion and harassment of [a] scientist skeptical of Darwinian evolution.” The persecuted scientist was Smithsonian research biologist Richard Sternberg, who experienced retaliation for overseeing the publication of Meyer’s paper.

As the NCSE documents show, Sternberg was neither demoted nor harassed in this incident. He was an unpaid editor who resigned from his job six months before the publication of the article. As for ruination, his research associates position was renewed in 2006 for three more years.

For the rest of the article, Luskin asks why the center reneged on its promise and squelched freedom of speech. Interestingly, throughout the article, he never once mentions the event that might have triggered the reaction in the first place: the Dover/Kitzmiller trial. At the end of the trial, which was nothing short of disastrous for Team Intelligent Design, presiding Judge Jones addressed the concept of ID in the context of religious thought. Citing theologian John Haught, Judge Jones wrote:

Dr. Haught testified that this argument for the existence of God was advanced early in the 19th century by Reverend Paley and defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich admitted that their argument for ID based on the “purposeful arrangement of parts” is the same one that Paley made for design. (9:7-8 (Haught); Trial Tr. vol. 23, Behe Test., 55-57, Oct. 19, 2005; Trial Tr. vol. 38, Minnich Test., 44, Nov. 4, 2005).The only apparent difference between the argument made by Paley and the argument for ID, as expressed by defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich, is that ID’s “official position” does not acknowledge that the designer is God. However, as Dr. Haught testified, anyone familiar with Western religious thought would immediately make the association that the tactically unnamed designer is God, as the description of the designer in Of Pandas and People (hereinafter “Pandas”) is a “master intellect,” strongly suggesting a supernatural deity as opposed to any intelligent actor known to exist in the natural world. (P-11 at 85). Moreover, it is notable that both Professors Behe and Minnich admitted their personal view is that the designer is God and Professor Minnich testified that he understands many leading advocates of ID to believe the designer to be God. (21:90 (Behe); 38:36-38 (Minnich)).

Although proponents of the IDM occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses. (20:102-03 (Behe)). In fact, an explicit concession that the intelligent designer works outside the laws of nature and science and a direct reference to religion is Pandas’ rhetorical statement, “what kind of intelligent agent was it [the designer]” and answer: “On its own science cannot answer this question. It must leave it to religion and philosophy.” (P-11 at 7; 9:13-14 (Haught)).

Further, William Dembski has stated that Intelligent Design "is just the Logos of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory."2

Therefore, the decision to not show the ID film Darwin's Dilemma might just as easily be seen as adhering to the First Amendment by not showing a film that is clearly religiously-based. It is certainly this fact that led to the protests in the first place.

CSC did not help itself in the matter by issuing no formal press release about the cancellation (at least none that I could find) although Jeff Rudolph, head of the center stated that the cancellation had to do with "contract issues, an argument that is echoed by Doc Bill over at (although you have to read around the sarcasm).

Either way, it is clear that this likely does not reflect a case of suppressing academic freedom as much as a case of the center acting prudently or in line with their signed contract. Luskin has blown this up way out of proportion and, in the process carefully bent the truth to suit the Discovery Institute's purposes.

1Meyer, Stephen C. (2004) The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington vol. 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239

2William A. Dembski, (1999) Signs of Intelligence: A Primer on the Discernment of Intelligent Design, Touchstone, July-August, 84.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Would You Like Another Helping of Quiche?

Anthropologist Peter McAllister is arguing that modern males are no match for our ancestors. picks up the story from The Scotsman. They write:

McAllister finds evidence he believes proves modern man is inferior to his predecessors in, among other fields, the basic Olympic athletics disciplines of running and jumping.

His conclusions about the speed of Australian aboriginals 20,000 years ago are based on a set of footprints, preserved in a fossilised claypan lake bed, of six men chasing prey.

An analysis of the footsteps of one of the men, dubbed T8, shows he reached speeds of 37 kph on a soft, muddy lake edge.

Bolt, by comparison, reached a top speed of 42 kph during his then world 100 metres record of 9.69 seconds at last year's Beijing Olympics.

McAllister said that, with modern training, spiked shoes and rubberised tracks, aboriginal hunters might have reached speeds of 45 kph.

His comments about Neandertals are even more embarrassing:

McAllister said that a Neanderthal woman had 10 per cent more muscle bulk than modern European man.

Trained to capacity, she would have reached 90 per cent of Schwarzenegger's bulk at his peak in the 1970s.

However, because of the quirk of her physiology, with a much shorter lower arm, he believes Neanderthal woman would have been able to "slam him to the table without a problem", he said.

As Glenn Reynolds would say: "ouch!"

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Off Topic: the Ig Nobel Prizes

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a story on another set of awards that is given out at this time every year, the Ig Nobel awards, which, as writer Gary Rotstein notes: "recognize ridiculous research":

The Ig Nobels may sound a tad silly, but there is a kernel of practicality in each, best demonstrated by this year's Public Health Prize. It went to Elena Bodnar of Chicago and partners, for an invention that might have sold like hotcakes -- or at least like a Wonder Bra -- at the Oakland street demonstrations during the G-20 summit.

Ms. Bodnar is a Ukraine native who has studied the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, during which people nearby were sickened by inhaling poisoned air. If only they'd worn brassieres capable of being converted to face masks, so many who were affected could have been protected.

That's the theory, at least, of Ms. Bodnar's U.S. patent No. 7255627, titled a "Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks." During an emergency, her version of a brassiere is capable of becoming a pair of masks used by both the bra wearer and a fortunate bystander of her choosing. Best of all, the bra size doesn't even matter.

"You have to be prepared all the time, at any place, at any moment," she said, sounding just like a Boy Scout, though Boy Scouts don't usually wear bras. (A number of their Scoutmasters might, however.)

I am sure there is a market out there somewhere.

On the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition

David Quammen, a science writer who wrote one of the best books on evolution out there, The Song of the Dodo, has published an illustrated, annotated version of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, the Charles Darwin classic. This volume is reviewed by John Lynch in Science Blogs. Lynch writes:
David Quammen has produced a very nice edition of Origin that relies on the first edition for its text but supplements it with extracts from The Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin's Autobiography while simultaneous profusely illustrating it with period illustrations, Darwinalia, and modern photos of species that Darwin refers to. All-in-all this is an excellent way for the Darwin neophyte to experience Origin and get some nice background into Darwin's life and time. Highly recommended!
Think of it as an antidote to the Charles Darwin Bible.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Carl Weiland of CMI on Ardipithecus

Creation Ministries International's Carl Wieland, a long time member of the old guard of creationists, has an article on the site about Ardipithecus. He writes this:
Our writings in this ministry have already pointed out for years, referring to the detailed work of evolutionist anatomists such as Charles Oxnard, that there is a broad group of fossil creatures, now extinct, that is more dissimilar to both modern apes and modern humans than these are to each other. Oxnard’s conclusion was that australopithecines (the main constituents of this group) were not in the human line. We agree with him, not surprisingly. Ardipithecus appears to belong to this group as well; in fact, when the highly fragmented specimen was first discovered in the mid 1990s, it was originally put into that same genus, and called Australopithecus ramidus. Tim White, director of the Human Evolution Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, says that Ardipithecus is not the common ancestor of apes and humans. But, he says, “it’s the closest we have ever been able to come”.
What is not being said here is that Mr. Wieland is still quoting the out-of-date Charles Oxnard paper about australopithecines, which was written before A. afarensis was described. Oxnard said, at the time (1975!) that although australopithecines were likely bipedal, they resembled apes more than humans. This paper was roundly criticized by many in the palaeoanthropological world because it relied on a very small set of measurements. Mr. Wieland is putting forth this evidence as if the last thirty-four years of palaeoanthropological research do not exist.

Tim White is perfectly correct about this. Ardipithecus shows us a creature that is closer to the split between humans and apes but, based on its morphology, is likely not at the split. Wieland continues to show his misunderstanding of evolution by continuing to rely on the outmoded unilineal, top-to-bottom ancestor tree idea that was abandoned by evolutionary biologists decades ago. He writes:

Did Ardi possess features which indicate a more upright stance than modern apes? Quite possibly, even likely. But then, so did the australopithecines/habilines. And both groups also possessed features making them suited for life in the trees as well. And CT scans of australopithecine skulls show that the organs of balance (the ‘semi-circular canals”) were positioned in ways quite different from that required for a creature that walks habitually upright.

In short, the significance of Ardi can be interpreted within either an evolutionary or creationist framework, and the latest analyses of these recycled bones and claims would appear to add no weight at all to the claims of either side. As cited elsewhere, a 1995 Nature article stated that it was “possible that Australopithecus [now Ardipithecus] ramidus is neither an ancestor of humanity, nor of chimpanzees … ”.1 And indications are that nothing has really changed since then.

First off, let's be clear: Homo habilis had absolutely no specializations for living in the trees. In fact, by the time you get to Australopithecus africanus and A. robustus, those specializations are long gone. So, Wieland is completely wrong about this. He does, however, quote Henry Gee correctly. It is entirely possible that Ardipithecus ramidus was not a direct ancestor to the hominid forms that came later. This does not mean she is not transitional, nor does it mean she is unrelated to the hominids that came later. Once again, this goes to the heart of the difference between direct ancestry and collateral ancestry. One only needs to look at the diversity of australopithecines to see evidence of that. It is clear, based on the fossil record, that A. boisei became extinct somewhere around 1.2-1.5 gigayears ago. That doesn't mean that one of the other branches of australopithecines did not give rise to later hominids. It is clear that the hominids of Ardipithecus ramidus' time (be they only one species or many) were on a track to bipedality.

Ardipithecus shows us a window into an anthropological past before that of Lucy, where bipedalism has taken hold in at least one hominid species but was not fully developed. At one point, Wieland notes that this find is nothing new because the bones were discovered in 1994. What he does not say is that it took over ten years to painstakingly remove the bones from the surrounding matrix and reconstruct them. This is common for palaeoanthropological discoveries. What Wieland is calling ho-hum, is, in fact, a very exciting discovery.

1Gee, H., Uprooting the human family tree, Nature 373(6509):15, 5 January 1995
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Ardipithecus Science Update

I stand corrected, the Science articles are available to anyone that wants to read them. Here is the link with all of the papers. Sorry for the misinformation. Grab the pdfs while you can. Even though there is no implied time limit on these papers, they take up server space and it will come down eventually.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Evolution of Mammalian Hearing

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has an article detailing research on early mammalian hearing. Mike Cronin writes:
Though it weighed 2 ounces and was 5 inches long, the chipmunk-like mammal that lived 123 million years ago had something its dinosaur predators didn't: middle ear bones partially independent of its jaw bone.

That evolutionary development helped Maotherium asiaticus have more sensitive hearing.

"This made it possible for mammals to be active in the night," said Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History associate director of science and curator of vertebrate paleontology, in an e-mail from Germany.

"In the Mesozoic (Era), when dinosaurs dominated the world, this is a key adaptation for the survival of mammals," he said.

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Archaeopteryx Growth Trajectory: The Dinosaur to Bird Avalance of Evidence Continues

Archaeopteryx, it seems, matured more like a dinosaur than a bird, according to a new report from ScienceDaily. How do we know this , you ask?:
That's because new, microscopic images of the ancient cells and blood vessels inside the bones of the winged, feathered, claw-handed creature show unexpectedly slow growth and maturation that took years, similar to that found in dinosaurs, from which birds evolved. In contrast, living birds grow rapidly and mature in a matter of weeks.

Also groundbreaking is the finding that the rapid bone growth common to all living birds but surprisingly absent from the Archaeopteryx was not necessary for avian dinosaur flight.
This is not good news for those arguing that Archaeopteryx was a true bird (see the ICR article here and the AIG article here), not that that position was tenable to begin with. The other notable conclusion is this:
"From these findings, we see that the physiological and metabolic transition into true birds occurred millions of years after Archaeopteryx," he said. "But, perhaps equally important, we've shown that avians were able to fly even with dinosaur physiology."
The Avalanche continues.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

P.Z. Myers Takes Russell Goldman to the Woodshed

In a post on Pharyngula, P.Z. Myers takes apart the Russell Goldman article on ABC News. Titled The Worst Article on Ardipithecus Yet, Myers, unfortunately has as much fun bashing intelligent Christians as he does bashing creationist Christians. About David Menton, he writes:
Menton is not an acclaimed anatomist. His sole claim to fame is his weird belief that the earth is only 6000 years old. Although, I must say, I agree with his sentiment here: the first page is metaphorical, poetical nonsense and should be thrown out, and the rest should be tossed right after it. But what really annoys me is the patent disrespect for knowledge in these people. Ardipithecus is a genus that lived over 4 million years ago. Shouldn't there be a little bit of awe at that? Not from the ICR.
There is much in the article that is terribly-written and worthy of scorn. The problem is that by bringing up the creationists' position, front and center, the radically strange, flat-earth science aspects of their position is emphasized, making Christians as a whole, look bad.

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Evolution of a Creationist

I spelled Mike Beidler's name wrong on his blog. Sorry, Mike.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kansas Biology Teachers and Evolution

The Wichita Eagle is reporting that a new survey of Kansas biology teachers reveals that they have the highest acceptance of evolution of any state in the country. As John Schrock writes:

The percentage of biology teachers from different states who thought that creation has a valid scientific foundation were: Kentucky teachers, 69 percent; Oklahoma, 48 percent; South Dakota, 39 percent; Ohio, 38 percent; Illinois, 30 percent; Georgia, 30 percent; Louisiana, 29 percent; and Kansas, 24 percent.

Creationist belief that contradicts science may actually be substantially lower than these percentages suggest. In a 1991 survey, 85 percent of Kansas biology teachers said they thought "the modern theory of evolution has a valid scientific foundation." But 25 percent also indicated that they thought "creationism has a valid scientific foundation."

After that survey, I chatted with teachers in the field. Some explained that they marked both answers because they were not literalist and saw 3.5 billion years of evolution as no problem. But they did believe in a supernatural creation of the universe in the beginning and, in some cases, a supernatural instilling of the soul on the evolutionary route from ape-men to humans. In neither case would their beliefs interfere with teaching modern evolutionary biology.

I suspect that this is more common than we think. After all, I can think of a number of people, myself included, who are committed evolutionists who also believe in a God-ordained creation. This gives one hope, although the numbers in Kentucky are a bit scary.

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New ABC Article on Ardipithecus Draws Fire

A new ABC article by Russell Goldman on Ardipithecus appears to give credence to the arguments of creationists, who argue that the discovery is nothing more than an ape, a statement that is easy to dispense with but, for some reason, Goldman can't do. Goldman is a reporter who has had his share of accuracy complaints leveled at him. This appears to be more a problem with sensationalism than with acceptance of a clearly non-scientific position. He writes:
In one camp are evolutionary scientists who last week published and hailed the discovery of an upright walking ape named Ardipithecus ramidus, or "Ardi" for short, who made Ethiopia her home nearly 5 million years ago.

But despite the excitement from the paleontology community, another group of researchers, many of them with advanced degrees in science, are unimpressed by Ardi, who they believe is just another ape -- an ape of indeterminate age, they add, and an ape who cannot be an ancestor of modern man for a range of reasons, including one of singular importance: God created man in one day, and evolution is a fallacy.
This is highly misleading. Very few of the "researchers" have advanced degrees from universities where mainstream geology and palaeontology are taught or have degrees relevant to the study of palaeontology or geology. Most have published few to no articles in mainstream science journals and their positions on matters of astronomy, geology, biology and palaeontology are far outside the mainstream for all of these and other disciplines. Goldman continues:
"What creationists believe about human origins we get from the Bible," said David Menton an acclaimed anatomist and also a creationist. "The creation of the world takes place on page one of the Bible. If you throw out the first page of the Bible you might as well throw out the whole thing. If you can't live with the first page then pitch out the remaining thousand pages."
Quoting David Menton here is slightly unusual. He is the exception to the norm in creationist circles. Is he an acclaimed anatomist? Web of science lists 37 publications dating back some twenty years and he did teach at the Washington University School of Medicine, which is a mainstream university (he is now emeritus) but his expertise is the organization of cells, particularly the dermis and epidermis, rather than comparative anatomy. When he does mention the anatomical evidence, he is quoted as saying:

Menton said Ardi's skull and feet are exactly the kind of skull and feet you would expect an ape to have and have none of the features of modern humans.

"Evolutionists want to call Ardi 'ape-like.' This creature is ape-like, because she is an ape. Just call it an ape," he said.

The biggest problem Menton has with Ardi is her estimated age. The Earth, he says, is no more around 5,000 years old, a number creationists have estimated by counting the generations of man named in the Bible from Adam to Jesus.

"Evolution is supposedly based on science, but the science does not prove what they want it to. Creationism is not based on scientific observation but on God's word. God created everything in six days, and that's it."

Even eyeballing the evidence, I can tell that there are transitional traits and that the remains don't resemble an ape. This is not the first time a creationist has looked at a fossil human and proclaimed it to be an ape. On pages 112-113 of Of Pandas and People, Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon write:
Darwinists are convinced that Homo erectus was nearly human and directly ancestral to man. Design adherents, however, regard Homo erectus, as well as the other hominids discussed in this section, as little more than apes, and point instead to the abrupt appearance of the culture and patterns of behavior which distinguish man from the apes.1
The first skull shown here is a chimpanzee skull. Below that is the Homo erectus skull from the Kenya National Museum found in East Rudolf, catalog number 3733

The anatomical differences are obvious and striking. Measurements have been taken on fossil material and compared to known apes. The results clearly indicate that Ardipithecus, Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus specimens bear no resemblance whatever to apes. Regarding Ardipithecus, is Menton's grasp of anatomy that bad that he cannot tell the difference between an ape and a human, or is he just being dishonest?

It is nothing short of amazing that Goldman chooses to end his article with the quote from Menton. It completely refocuses the attention on the creationists and away from the importance of the fossil find. It also gives no room for rebuttal to his statements, quoting one of the discoverers, Owen Lovejoy, only once. Such treatment is irresponsible and offensive. The article should have ended with a comment on David Menton's quotes, which might read something like "Sadly, there are no mainstream geologists, astronomers, astrophysists, geochemists, geneticists, palaeontologists, palaeobotanists, or anthropologists that agree with Dr. Menton's position."

1Davis, Percival, and Kenyon, Dean. (1993) Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Foundation for Thought and Ethics

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Lee Meadows' Blog

Lee Meadows, who's new book The Missing Link I mentioned a few posts back has a blog called "Never Give In" about science education. The site is heavily pedagogical and approaches each new discovery from the perspective of how it can be taught as opposed to what it teaches us about evolution. Although I am sympathetic to the comments of Kent that we need to help students understand how important a role evolution plays in daily life and that, in that sense, they need to "believe it," I am also cognisant of the Kurt Wise's of the world, who will take all of it in and not believe a word of it. We can only bang our heads on the desk so many times. I know what I am going to do with my Christmas money this year. Time to add Lee's book to the list.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Evolutionary Medicine

A short piece in Science reviews a new book by Peter Gluckman, Alan Beedle and Mark Hanson called Principles of Evolutionary Medicine. This is a matter of wondering "what took you guys so long?" The book is a treatise on how evolutionary mechanisms affect medicine and treatments. The reviewer notes the following:
In 2009, the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, evolutionary biology is still trying to earn a place in medical education. The core competencies recommended by a recent joint committee of the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute on the scientific knowledge required by future physicians include an understanding of evolution by natural selection (1). At an April meeting, "Evolution in Health and Medicine," sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, a panel of deans and faculty from leading medical schools around the world endorsed the incorporation of evolutionary principles in medical curricula (2). And yet one can probably count on the digits of a three-toed sloth the number of medical schools currently offering such instruction.
I have posted on a number of trends/discoveries that have a direct bearing on medicine, from ERVs here, and here, and exaptation here and here, as well as other germane topics. If these guidelines are adapted, it may force a number of current medical students to rethink their calling. Up until now, it was perfectly easy to be a medical doctor and not know beans about evolution. I go to Bible Study Fellowship with some that I am convinced are Young Earth Creationists. The problem is that, all you have to do is look at the evolutionary history of H1N1 to know that this is an issue who's time has come.

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LGF Equates Creationism With Global Warming Skeptics

Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs is writing about a "Climate of Denial" in which he argues that creationists and global warming skeptics use the same tactics to arrive at their "science." He writes:
Again, I’m struck by the similarity between the techniques of global warming deniers and creationists; they both use cherry-picked data, they both make outrageous claims couched in pseudo-scientific language that sounds convincing to gullible people, they both compile lists of skeptical “scientists” that turn out to be packed with ringers, frauds, and people who never signed in the first place, and they both use quote mining.
As I have indicated before, I am just not sure this is true. I think this for the following reasons:

  • I know of very few creationists who write about an area in which they practice. The classic example of this is, obviously The Genesis Flood, written by a hydraulics engineer and a pastor—neither of whom had the slightest amount of geological or biological training. That trend continues to this day. Ken Ham, the charismatic leader of Answers in Genesis has no science training other than that which one must get in school. His training is, in fact, in the pastorship. The scientists he employs (John Whitmore, Jason Lisle, Terry Mortensen, David Menton) have degrees from creationist colleges and their science articles are never published in mainstream science journals because their research and evaluations are suspect. This is true with the ICR as well. When they attempt to produce something approaching mainstream science (The RATE Project), their arguments are prone to wild speculation and misinterpretation of scientific literature and procedures.
  • While the Dissent from Darwinism list that the Discovery Institute hawks has very few scientists that actually practice in fields that are relevant to evolutionary studies, the Global Warming Petition Project is chock full of climatologists, meteorologists, geophysicists, astronomers and environmental scientists, who all other things being equal, ought to know what they are talking about. It should be noted, however that eSkeptic does not agree, based on complaints similar to those listed above for the Dissent from Darwinism list. Having said that, there are others who are not convinced that the anthropogenic model best explains the data and have the credentials to argue persuasively.
As I said in a previous post, I do not have the background necessary to evaluate the arguments for or against global warming. I can only evaluate the comparison to creationism, which I don't think is valid.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Nifty Blog to Check Out

I probably should have discovered this blog earlier. Mike Biedler is a commander in the U.S. Navy and is the brains behind the blog The Evolution of a Creationist. Unlike yours truly, Mike made the arduous trek from young earth creationism to evolutionary creationism. This is humorously recounted in his "Steps of the Journey." For anyone who has made the journey out of the desert of Young earth creationism, or is questioning their YEC leanings, his site is a must.

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Josh Rosenau and the Good Samaritan

A bit back, Josh Rosenau, the blogger behind Thoughts from Kansas lost his laptop and some other items. Recently, someone anonymously donated some money to him with a note that reads, in part:
Not that it matters, but I am one of those dreaded "creationists" that many science bloggers love to mock. My own personal views fall somewhere between id [sic] (not ID the whole DI anti-evolution political movement) and TE [theistic evolution] or EC [evolutionary creationism, the evangelical version of TE, roughly]. I love science and have a B.S. in a health-related field. I am kind of a freak in that no one else I know really seems to care much about the subject. … I do not oppose teaching good science. But I do oppose either scientism or religion being promoted in public schools, but am willing to bet that most educators know better than to cross the line. … I hate the warfare rhetoric used by the most vocal culture warriors. A lot of books and articles apparently get sold/read by capitalizing on the warfare model. I have concluded that those on the extremes have no desire to see the warfare end and achieve their purposes best by fanning the flames.
When I read that, I think of the ICR, AIG, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne and then I think about all of the rest of us caught in the middle. Here is someone willing to help out just because he can and believes that he is called to do so. A good example for all of us.

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Ardipithecus ramidus in Science Magazine

Science Magazine has a series of articles on the Ardipithecus ramidus remains that have been fully described. The articles are behind a subscription wall, so I cannot link to them. I will hit the high points, though. These quotes are necessarily short in order to conform to fair use guidelines. From Owen Lovejoy et al's Careful Climbing in the Miocene: The Forelimbs of Ardipithecus ramidus and Humans Are Primitive1:
This discovery ends years of speculation about the course of human evolution. Our ancestors’ hands differed profoundly from those of living great apes, and therefore the two must have substantially differed in the ways they climbed, fed, and nested. It is African apes who have evolved so extensively since we shared our last common ancestor, not humans or our immediate hominid ancestors. Hands of the earliest hominids were less ape-like than ours and quite different from those of any living form.
From Combining Prehension and Propulsion: The Foot of Ardipithecus ramidus2:
One of the great advantages of our more rigid foot is that it works much better as a lever during upright walking and running (as it also does in monkeys). However, Ar. ramidus still had an opposable big toe, unlike any later hominid. Its ability to walk upright was therefore comparatively primitive. Because it had substantially modified the other four toes for upright walking, even while retaining its grasping big toe, the Ardipithecus foot was an odd mosaic that worked for both upright walking and climbing in trees. If our last common ancestor with the chimpanzee had not retained such an unspecialized foot, perhaps upright walking might never have evolved in the first place.
From The Pelvis and Femur of Ardipithecus ramidus: The Emergence of Upright Walking3
Ardipithecus ramidus now unveils how our skeleton became progressively modified for bipedality. Although the foot anatomy of Ar. ramidus shows that it was still climbing trees, on the ground it walked upright. Its pelvis is a mosaic that, although far from being chimpanzee-like, is still much more primitive than that of Australopithecus.
From The Great Divides: Ardipithecus ramidus Reveals the Postcrania of Our Last Common Ancestors with African Apes4:
The hominid descendant of the last common ancestor we shared with chimpanzees (the CLCA), Ardipithecus, became a biped by modifying its upper pelvis without abandoning its grasping big toe. It was therefore an unpredicted and odd mosaic. It appears, unlike Au. afarensis, to have occupied the basal adaptive plateau of hominid natural history. It is so rife with anatomical surprises that no one could have imagined it without direct fossil evidence.
The takeaway message here is that just as human evolution has proceeded by fits and spurts, the science behind it has done the same, like most other scientific endeavors. Five years ago, we were looking for an ancestor that looked something like a primitive chimpanzee. Now we know that is not how it went. The other cherished model that will go by the wayside is that bipedalism was an adaptation to the expansion of the savanna and grasslands and the retreat of the forests. The morphology of Ardipithecus seems, instead, to strongly suggest that bipedalism arose while our ancestors were still living in a forest environment. When the forest retreated, however, it is clear that Ardipithecus ramidus or something like it had the necessary adaptations to survive the changes and thrive in the new environment.

Some will say that because we were so wrong about our early hominid models, we don't know much about evolution. Those arguments have been put forth before. A cursory look at Marvin Lubenow's dreadful book Bones of Contention shows that. Ardipithecus doesn't tell us that human evolution didn't happen. It tells us that some of our models were wrong. In any scientific field, each new discovery ought to result in a slight rewrite of some cherished theories. If it doesn't, the science is stagnant. This is the critical difference between science and creationism. creationism cannot change its theories or models. It has only one explanation for how things happened, which must be correct. Any evidence that does not comport with those models must be explained away, no matter the cost to intellectual or scientific integrity. We found this out first-hand with the RATE project. The discovery of Ardipithecus ramidus should be fascinating and exciting to any evolutionary biologist. It not only shows us where we were wrong, it shows us what we got right and where our models need to be adjusted. More importantly, though, it shows us a glimpse of our deep past in an breathtakingly new and exciting way.

1Lovejoy, C.O., Simpson, Scott, White, Tim, Asfaw, B, and Suwa, G. (2009) Careful Climbing in the Miocene: The Forelimbs of Ardipithecus ramidus and Humans Are Primitive. Science 326: 70

2Lovejoy, C, Latimer, B., Suwa, G., Asfaw, B., and White, T.D.(2009) Combining Prehension and Propulsion: The Foot of Ardipithecus ramidus. Science 326: 72

3Lovejoy, C., Suwa, G., Spurlock, L., Asfaw, B., White, T.D. (2009) The Pelvis and Femur of Ardipithecus ramidus: The Emergence of Upright Walking. Science 326: 71

4Lovejoy, C., Suwa, G., Simpson, Scott W., Matternes, Jay H., White, T.D. (2009) The Great Divides: Ardipithecus ramidus Reveals the Postcrania of Our Last Common Ancestors with African Apes. Science 326: 73

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