Thursday, March 31, 2011

More Trouble for the Good Ship Noah

It seems that the Ark Encounter is not quite being upfront about some things. is now reporting that, despite Governor Steve Beshear's comments to the contrary, he and state officials never saw a feasibility study for the proposed theme park. Linda Blackford writes:

The state doesn't have a copy of the report, according to responses to requests under the Open Records Act sent by the Herald-Leader to the state tourism and economic development departments and to the governor's office.

Officials with Ark Encounter also declined to give the Herald-Leader a copy of the 10,000-page report, including its 200-page executive summary.

According to the company's summary of the study, the project is expected to create more than 900 full- and part-time jobs in Grant County, a number that Beshear has now mentioned in various venues around the state as he prepares for his re-election campaign next year.

Given the traffic that goes through the Creation Museum every year, though, it is not clear that this has been oversold. Nonetheless, it has some people riled up:
“We've got people making state economic development decisions without actually seeing the numbers,” said Jim Waters of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a Libertarian-leaning think tank in Bowling Green. “I think that's outrageous.”
Given that most states are hurting for money and budgets are going out of control, it is understandable from a financial point of view that this would be a problem. That it will continue to make Kentucky the scientific laughing stock of the country is almost beside the point. According to Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson, however, the state is not on the hook for this:
“The state doesn't put in a penny to this project until it is completed, operating, and hitting the agreed-upon performance goals set through the Tourism Development Act,” Richardson said. “If they complete the project and it doesn't perform as well as projected, then the state does not pay a nickel on the deal.”
If this continues to be a rocky adventure, however, it may sink the re-election campaign of Beshear. Meanwhile, those in the scientific community continue to stare in amazement and scratch their heads.

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Amazing Find Rock Evolutionary Theory!!

According to The Panda's Thumb, a fossil find in pre-Cambrian beds in the Flinders Range in Australia will overturn the theory of evolution. Nick Matzke writes:
It’s hard to believe, but a reptile has been found in Precambrian strata (specifically Ediacaran) – with preserved skin. This sometimes happens in more recent deposits, but there has never been a case this old. Plus, this fossil is the first one I’ve ever seen that could meet Haldane’s criteria for falsifying evolution: a Precambrian rabbit. I mean, I guess now that push comes to shove I have to say that I wouldn’t give up evolution because of one out of place fossil, but I’ve always prided myself on sticking to the evidence, so I figured I should post it as soon as I heard about it.
Here is the accompanying photo that is truly quite startling.

Oh yeah, by the way, Australia is across the International Date line. It is now April 1 over there.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Christianity Today on the Ken Ham/Great Homeschool Convention Rucus

Christianity Today has remarked on the recent disinvite of Ken Ham by the Great Homeschool Convention here. Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra provides a bit more insight into the chain of events:
Great Homeschool Conventions, which aims to teach and encourage homeschooling parents, hired Ham to present at four conferences this spring and summer, along with Peter Enns, a senior fellow of biblical studies at the BioLogos Foundation.

BioLogos's mission is to "promote a perspective on the origins of life that is both theologically and scientifically sound," and Enns argues against a strictly literal reading of Genesis, according to his blog.

During the first two conferences, in Memphis and Greenville, SC, Ham showed audiences two video clips of Enns to illustrate how modern Christian speakers were compromising God's word, according to the Answers in Genesis website. He also told audiences that Enns had connections to Susan Wise Bauer, another speaker.
You don't show up at a conference you have been invited to with the express purpose of taking potshots at other speakers. That is low.

Interestingly, none of the articles on the dust-up have mentioned what the home school folks thought of Peter Enns or, for that matter, why they even invited him in the first place, given that, in the stated response to Ken Ham, they stated:
We know that many of our attendees agree with Dr. Ham’s young earth position as we do. What created this problem was Dr. Ham’s spirit.
Surely, they knew what Peter Enns thought and has written. Surely, they knew that it would clash with the vast majority of homeschoolers and the main organizations. Here is his site on home schooling that he is promoting through Olive Branch books.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Idle Question

I read over at Uncommon Descent that Jonathan Marks doesn't buy common descent based on the genomics. When is the Discovery Institute going to turn out a palaeontologist? Has anyone else noticed that there is no emphasis on geology or palaeontology at the site and when they do forage into those two fields, their specious and ill-formed arguments usually get blown out of the water?

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Friday, March 25, 2011

The Poisonous Attitude of AiG: Nathan Ham Defends His Father

Todd Wood points us to a rebuttal of the Great Homeschool Conventions letter by Nathan Ham in defense of his father, Ken Ham. Great Homeschool Conventions released a response to the attack on their decision by the elder Ham that reads in part:
Dr. Ham was removed for his spirit not for his message. As an invited guest, Dr. Ham’s spirit toward our convention was unkind. Dr. Ham’s spirit toward our attendees was not gracious. Dr. Ham’s spirit toward other speakers was unprofessional. In short, a proud, ungrateful and divisive spirit was projected from Dr. Ham. Regardless of the message, Dr. Ham's approach sullied the atmosphere of the convention.
We know that many of our attendees agree with Dr. Ham’s young earth position as we do. What created this problem was Dr. Ham’s spirit. (emphasis in original)
As has been pointed out in other places, Ken Ham doesn't have a Ph.D. in anything and is self-taught (if one can call it that) with regard to the natural and sciences.

Nathan Ham blasted back:
Some Christians today are like the hippies of 50 years ago who used the word “love” to justify their fornications and sins against the word of God. The hippie culture is often pictured as a group of drug-addicted, fornicating drunks whose catchphrase “make love, not war” gave their movement a false sense of piety. But to those who know a handful of Bible verses taught to Sunday school children, their sins are as grievous as the war crimes they claimed to oppose. Just the same, these Christians like to justify their disobedience to the Bible by saying “we are supposed to love each other”. Oh, but aren't these hippie Christians godly? (I am speaking sarcastically). I mean, they actually quote John 13:35. Please note: their judgment is coming according to Proverbs 1:26.
Todd Wood’s take on this is somewhat understated:
I understand his point about love being used as an excuse to tolerate error (and I sympathize), but does Nathan's post seem just a bit over the top to anyone else?
Nathan Ham's response isn't just over the top, it is offensive. It equates anyone who does not hew to the Young earth message with empty-headed hippies and states that anyone with this view is going to hell. This is arrogance of the highest order and should be condemned within Christian circles. No wonder these people were disinvited. He talks about harming the body of Christ. How are his words edifying? How do they build up the body of Christ. One of the tenets of the Homeschooling message should be familiar to all Christians:
One of the core values of our convention is that good people can disagree and still be good people.
Not to Ken and Nathan Ham. To them, there is only one way to think about these things and if you don't accept that way, be damned! While I have never had much respect for Ken Ham or his endeavors, it is hard not to feel antipathy at this point and an earnest hope that others will have their hearts and minds made aware of this poisonous attitude and how badly it reflects on Christians and Christianity.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Wake Up Call?

Apparently, a homeschooling association has banned Ken Ham from their upcoming convention for being too intolerant. AiG has its own account of the ordeal, posted here. According to an unsigned article:
In an email to Ken Ham, the leader of this homeschool group wrote to us (just after midnight last night) to announce its decision. Sadly, the leader of this group did not personally call Ken or anyone at AiG first, nor did anyone on his board, to make sure they got the full background. Just as a common courtesy, not to speak of biblical guidelines (such as Proverbs 18:13; Matthew 18:15–17; etc.), one would expect that one of its leaders would at least have spoken to us before rescinding our agreement.
What did the homeschooling association write?
One of the core values of our convention is that we believe that good people can disagree and still be good people. We believe that Christians do not need to personally question the integrity, the intelligence, or the salvation of other Christians when debating Biblical issues. Ken has obviously felt led to publicly attack our conventions and a number of our speakers. We believe that what Ken has said and done is unChristian and sinful. A number of attendees are demanding explanations from our board and we must respond to them.

We believe that Dr. Ham is very intelligent and deliberate and that he decided that publicly slandering our conventions and defaming a number of our speakers is what he wanted to do. Whereas Ken chooses to conduct himself in a way that we believe to be unscriptural, we cannot countenance that spirit as we believe it would not honor the Savior whom we serve.
It is amazing and gratifying to see someone from a homeschooling association take on the one-dimensional Ham. This seems to have arisen, in part, due to Mr. Ham's public criticisms of one of the speakers of the conference, Peter Enns. Enns is a senior fellow at BioLogos and has written many articles for them on the nature of the literature of Genesis and the historical Adam. It is also no surprise that this has rubbed some Christians the wrong way. AiG continues:
For a long time now, Ken has been alerting audiences to what Dr. Enns believes and teaches. Since he was there at the convention to promote a Bible curriculum to homeschoolers, Ken could not in good conscience speak without warning people about him. Also, the conference organizers were aware back in November that we would be talking about the beliefs of BioLogos at upcoming conventions. Because Dr. Enns of BioLogos was speaking at Mr. Dean’s conventions to promote a Bible curriculum to homeschoolers, which we consider very dangerous to the spiritual upbringing of kids, we wanted to make sure that people knew what he believed.
While it is certainly true that Dr. Enns, who is a Christian theologian and professor of Biblical Studies, has some views that are not shared by many Christians, it is the supreme irony here that Mr. Ham has gone out of his way to “warn” people about Dr. Enns without once disclosing the fact that his own views on the creation of the universe fall within the purview of “flat earth religion” and are regarded by virtually all educated scientists as a joke and completely without scientific merit.

Concerning an article by Enns, Ham writes:
He accepts what the secular world teaches concerning evolution and millions of years, and it is so obvious this determines how he approaches the Bible. He does not have the same view of inspiration as I do. In fact, he doesn’t have the biblical view of inspiration: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Aside from the pomposity of such a response, Ken Ham does not have either the theological or scientific education that Peter Enns does and, therefore, employs a one-dimensional view of scripture that he argues is the only view that one can have. If it is not based on a six-thousand year old creation, it cannot be Christianity. I hope more organizations stand up to this kind of intolerance.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

UK Minister: “teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact”

Michael Gove, Education Secretary in the UK has stated categorically that creationism will not be allowed in the British public schools. Riazat Butt, of the Guardian, writes:
The Department for Education has said Michael Gove is "crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact" after a warning that the government's new free schools could be exploited by fundamentalist churches looking to promote a literal interpretation of the Bible.

The remarks follow a letter to the education secretary from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) suggesting that creationists planned to use government legislation on free schools to mount a "concerted attack" on science education.

Free schools can be set up by charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and groups of parents. They will have more freedom over the contents of their curriculum, leading to fears that science teaching in the schools may not be as rigorous. Teachers working at free schools will also not need to have formal teaching qualifications.
There is not really an analogous entity for this sort of thing here in the U.S. The closest thing, philosophically, would be private schools, which definitely are not free.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

First Use of Fire in Europe Later Than Thought

New Scientist is reporting that examination of the earliest evidence of controlled fire in Europe has pushed it forward in time to around 400,000 years ago. Jessica Hamzelou writes:
To try to pin down the earliest evidence of controlled fire use, Paola Villa at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Wil Roebroeks at Leiden University in the Netherlands re-examined the data from over 100 European sites. They were looking for evidence of fires that were unlikely to have occurred naturally – those in caves, for example – and for clues that fire had been used in a controlled way. These include activities such as making pitch: some early hominins made this sticky substance by burning birch bark and using it to glue pieces of flint to wooden handles to make stone tools easier to use.
She continues:
Although Villa and Roebroeks investigated only European sites, they think evidence of controlled fire use at a number of other sites is also up for debate. The Swartkrans site in South Africa is believed by some to contain 1.6 million-year-old evidence in the form of hundreds of charred bones. "But these might just have been sporadic natural fires that were taken advantage of," says Villa. In fact, just one site earlier than the 400,000 year mark has strong evidence of controlled fire use, the pair says: the 780,000-year-old Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in Israel.
The earliest evidence in Asia is in the Homo erectus/ergaster site of Zhoukoudian, where it is estimated to be around 400 ky also. This does, indeed, suggest that early humans use of considerable resourcefulness without the use of fire. I am betting though, that even Spain during the Mindel and Riss glaciations was pretty cold. I would not be surprised if evidence was discovered that pushes the use of controlled fire back a bit.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gibbons and Siamangs Booted off the Island

Science Daily has a story about a new Primate phylogenetic tree that has been derived from sequencing 54 genetic regions in 186 species. Over the course of the last twenty years or so, with the advent of the genetic revolution, there has been a wave of new information about the higher apes that has allowed us to break them out of their “grade” of higher apes and place them more accurately taxonomically.

It now appears that gibbons and siamangs (Hylobates, Nomascus and Symphalangus) are monophyletic with respect to the clade that includes gorillas, chimpanzees, orangs and us. I have reproduced the relevant part of the image in the PLoS article to the left. About them, the authors of the article write:
The eight species included in this study form three clades that coincide with genus designation (absent is Hoolock; nodes 64–69) that diverged rapidly 8.9 MYA. Moreover, Nomascus species appear more recent than Symphalangus and Hylobates, with node divergence dates estimated at less than 1 MY (Table 3, Table S9, Figure 2). Thus, Hylobatidae exhibits episodes of rapid divergence perhaps related to excessive genome re-organization and warrants additional investigation.
Another piece of the puzzle.

Hat Tip to Bill Myers.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Another Species of Homo??

There is, if you believe the work coming out of Max Planck Institute. According to an article in Der Spiegel:
The human family just got a new relative. Genetic researchers in Leipzig have deciphered the DNA of a hominid species that coexisted with Homo sapiens and Neanderthals around 40,000 years ago. A tiny piece of bone was enough for them to sequence the genome.

The miniscule amount of powder could have sat on a knife point, and yet, according to Johannes Krause, it contains something sensational. The Leipzig-based genetic researcher extracted the fine powder from a minute piece of fossilized bone -- and discovered a whole chapter of mankind's history inside it.
One wonders why the remains of such have not been found. No matter. Onward. This is a follow-up to a story that, somehow, escaped my notice earlier this year, the discovery of the Denisova girl. She, apparently is the representative of a new species of Homo that split off from the main line around 300,000 years ago, and lived in the steppes and Siberia. The speculations are almost lurid:
The scientists posed the question as to how different types of hominids might have interacted with each other. Did they hunt each other? Did they avoid each other? Might they have stolen each other's women? To find the answers to these questions, the Max Planck scientists compared DNA from the Denisova cave with that of modern man. They found no traces of Denisova characteristics in people from Africa, Europe or China. Indeed, clear indications of intermingling were only found among the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea.

The two types of hominids, researchers believe, must have encountered each other somewhere in Southeast Asia. They hypothesize that different Denisova tribes had settled there long before modern man made his way to East Asia some 30,000 years ago. The two groups must have interbred, perhaps not as a matter of course, but periodically. Later, the modern humans and their genetic dowry moved further south, whence today's Melanesians developed.

The Leipzig researchers now want to search Russian and Chinese collections for more fossils that could belong to the Denisova. The hope is to understand what they may have looked like. While the DNA provides hints on several characteristics of the Denisova, appearance is not one of them.
This is not out of the question, since hominids in this time range all belong to that kitchen sink, catch-all grade “archaic Homo sapiens,” which encompasses basically everything that succeeded Homo heidelbergensis up to modern Homo sapiens. It also means that the human family tree is considerably more bushy than we thought at this point in time.

On the other hand, if they found traces of intermingling with Melanesians and other Asian groups, it is not clear how “specific” these individuals were. The original authors have remarked that the Denisova girl represented an out-of-Africa migration, a conclusion that has been challenged by Martinón-Torres et al. 1 These authors write:
The evidence that the ancestors of Neanderthals (i.e., H. heidelbergensis) left Africa ca. 500–300 ka is currently inconclusive, and the origin of H. heidelbergensis remains enigmatic. Whilst dispersals out of Africa might have occurred ca. 1.0 Ma, large-scale dispersals within Asia were also probable, and thus an Asian origin of the Denisovans cannot be excluded. These issues cannot be resolved without substantial improvements in the dating of key specimens, without an enlarged Asian fossil hominin record (particularly from SW Asia), and without a much more detailed Middle Pleistocene climatic record from SW Asia and NE Africa. Although the Denisova evidence is undoubtedly a fascinating piece in the jigsaw puzzle of human origins, it would be premature at present to determine the part of the picture to which it belongs.
Given what we know about Neandertal DNA showing up in the modern human genome, the remains from Denisova may yet suggest a very wide-range polytypism in the human record during the transition from archaic to modern Homo sapiens.

1Martinón-Torres, M., Dennell, R., & Bermúdez de Castro, J. M. (2011). The Denisova hominin need not be an out of Africa story. Journal of human evolution, 60(2), 251-255.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Miyagi Prefecture Update

From FoxNews:

Official: Death Toll in Japan Quake 'Likely' to Exceed 10,000

Keep praying. A note about the picture in the story: Tagajo, where it was taken, is a few miles inland. It is the train station in which we would arrive before going to Takayama, the missionary community.


My parents used to own a summer home in a missionary community on the northeastern coast of Japan on the seven beaches peninsula (Shichigahama). We still have friends in the area. I have had no word from the people in the region but this is what the town of Shiogama, seven mile away, looked like after the earth quake:

Please pray for the people in this area. This is a wondrous earth that God has created but it moves around quite a bit, often with disastrous consequences for the people that live on it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Francis Collins and Karl Giberson at BioLogos on Common Ancestry

There is a discussion going on at BioLogos between Francis Collins and Karl Giberson about the role of common ancestry in evolutionary theory. Karl asks:
A layperson is understandably skeptical when they are told that there’s this tree of life going back to a common ancestor and all these animals are on the tree but we have no direct evidence for most of them and we have to infer them hypothetically. How do you respond to this large number of missing pieces in the puzzle? Does that bother you at all?
To this, Francis responds:
I know it bothers people who are not really convinced yet about the consistency of the whole theory but it doesn’t bother me at all. Is the absence of a fossil representation of an organism really all that troubling when you realize that what you’re asking for in that case—fossilization— is extremely unlikely to have happened? Now we can actually go back and predict pretty much to the base pair what was the genome sequence of the common mammalian ancestor.

We have done that for big stretches of the genome to show how you can computationally assemble that information. And it’s breathtaking that you can actually look now at the DNA sequence, which is a fossil record of its own, of an organism that we’re all descended from. And so are all the other mammals because we have enough evidence from today that we are able to look back through history to see what that must have looked like.
This is similar to what Jerry Coyne wrote (paraphrased) that even if we didn't have a fossil record, evolution would still be true, based on the genomic revolution that has occurred in the last fifteen years. The fact that we have the fossil record, which backs up the genomic evidence is just another nail in the coffin.
Francis Collins finishes by writing: There’s lots of stuff we [his fellow geneticists] don’t agree upon. But we do agree upon descent from a common ancestor, gradual change over a long period of time, and natural selection operating to produce the diversity of living species. There is no question that those are correct. Those are three cardinal pillars of Darwin’s theory that have been under-girded by data coming from multiple directions and they are not going to go away. Evolution is not a theory that is going to be discarded next week or next year or a hundred or a thousand years from now. It is true.
Yup. Read the whole thing as well as the first post.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Florida Evolution Bill

A “strengths and weaknesses” bill has been proposed in the Florida statehouse aimed solely at evolution. The Orlando Sentinel reports:

A bill filed in the Florida Senate would require a “critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution,” and some scientists fear it will open the doors for another heated evolution debate in Florida.

The bill, SB 1854, was filed by Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, who has seemed mostly focused on his merit-pay plan for teachers this year.

The Florida Citizens for Science, an advocacy group that argues in favor of teaching evolution and better science instruction overall, says such bills are just an attempt to undermine lessons on evolution.

It notes that Wise filed a similar, and unsuccessful, bill in 2009, and has spoken in favor of “Intelligent Design,” an argument that an “intelligent cause” better explains living things than evolution by natural selection.

Well, at least someone was honest about why one of these bills is being drafted. Usually, they are promoted as fostering “critical thinking” in science, when really the people involved just want evolution gone. They just don't have the honesty to say that.

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More on the Ark Encounter

This is not new per se but there are more rumblings about the legality of the Ark project as it pertains to the state of Kentucky. NPR's Cheri Lawson writes:

Editorial boards of Kentucky's two largest newspapers have railed against the project. So have academics who disagree with the creationist view of science.

[Ken] Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis, says increasingly there's a bias against Christians who take the book of Genesis as literal history. He says the theme park's intent is to create more awareness of the Bible.

"That's what it is," he says. "We make no apology about that. It is a theme park centered around biblical history."

What's getting more attention in Kentucky, though, is the proposed tax rebate. Under Kentucky's Tourism Act, the park could recoup more than $37 million based on ticket sales and the money brought in over the course of 10 years.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar at the University of California, Irvine, says building a Bible-based theme park isn't an issue. But giving it tax breaks violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

"The Supreme Court has said that the government can't act with the purpose or effect of advancing religion," he says. "This project is all about advancing religion even as the governor of Kentucky has described it. In that way, it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
There is also the point that the county in which the project is proposed currently has 11% unemployment and that such an endeavor would help the county financially. This is likely true. That does not, however, change the nature of the exhibit.

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CFSI Developments

The Center for Faith and Science International is undergoing a web page makeover, which Rob Zimmer says will go live in the first part of April. That is when the next post by yours truly will go up.

I just turned in my latest BioLogos post which should go up shortly. It is on the adaptive radiation of the early australopithecines.

New Background

I finally got the nerve up to try to change the background. I think it worked. I may adjust it again, now that I know how to do it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bernard Wood and Terry Harrison on Early Human Origins

Bernard Wood and Terry Harrison, two of the preeminent scholars in the study of human origins think that we are assimilating too many fossils into our family tree. In an article in PhysOrg, the author writes:
The paper, "The evolutionary context of the first hominins," reconsiders the evolutionary relationships of fossils named Orrorin, Sahelanthropus and Ardipithecus, dating from four to seven million years ago, which have been claimed to be the earliest human ancestors. Ardipithecus, commonly known as "Ardi," was discovered in Ethiopia and was found to be radically different from what many researchers had expected for an early human ancestor. Nonetheless, the scientists who made the discovery were adamant it is a human ancestor.
Wood and Harrison have a point here. One of the things that we castigate those that are unfamiliar with evolutionary theory about is “unilineal” thinking—that you can have transitional forms in the fossil record that do not reflect direct ancestry but “collateral” ancestry. This is especially true in the transition from the late theropod dinosaurs to birds. Yet, because we are talking about our own lineage, we tend to slip into a unileal way of thinking. Witness the brouhaha about Ida last year. Everyone wanted to roll her into the human fossil line even though there was no concrete evidence of such.

This does not mean that Sahelanthropus, Orrorin and Ardipithecus are not transitional. It just means that there is no direct evidence that they are ancestral to the human line. In the article, Wood and Harrison write:
There is no reason why higher primate evolution in Africa in the past ten million years should not mirror the complexity observed in the evolutionary histories of other mammals during the same time period. Nor is there any reason, especially with the lessons from Ramapithecus and Oreopithecus fresh in the minds of researchers, to assume that hominins should not be prone to the same limitations and uncertainties of phylogenetic analysis as other fossil primates.1
This does not make them any less worthy of study or of producing excitement in the palaeoanthropological community.

1Wood B., Harrison T. (2011) The evolutionary context of the first hominins. Nature 470:347-352.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Climatic Conditions of the Ordovician

A new article in PhysOrg reports on efforts to get a handle on what led to one of the greatest mass extinctions in the planet's history. Tony Fitzpatrick writes:
A team of researchers, including earth and planetary scientists from Washington University in St. Louis, for the first time has been able to reconstruct both ocean temperature and general ice thickness of massive glaciers during one of the biggest mass extinctions in history hundreds of millions of years ago.

The extinction, which occurred between 445 and 443 million years ago in the Late Ordovician Period, is one of the five biggest mass extinctions in Earth history, wiping out an estimated 75 percent of simple marine species.

The Ordovician glaciation is the only one that coincides with a major mass marine extinction. Shedding light on this ancient event can help reveal clues about the interplay between evolution, climate and environment.
Some might say, big deal. Why is money being spent on something like this? Simply: if it happened once, it can happen again. It also educates us about how the earth came to be the way that it is and helps us understand how it behaves better.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Casey Luskin Invokes Need for Tennessee HB 368

In Evolution News and Views, Casey Luskin has endorsed the need for Tennessee House Bill 368. He writes:

Why do we need academic freedom legislation like Tennessee's HB 368? In case biology lecturer Allison Campbell decides to relocate to the United States. Sadly, even if she remains in New Zealand, there are already people here who don't allow for the free flow of ideas, especially when it comes to discussion of evolution.

Biology lecturer Allison Campbell at the University of Waikato in Hillcrest, New Zealand, exemplifies a mindset that is tragically common in academia. She openly boasts that if a student were to use standard ID arguments such as the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, that student would be "marked down."
He then argues that she has gotten a number of points wrong. Lets see what he writes:
She capitulates to the conspiracy theory that ID is creationism because of the editing of the Pandas textbook, ignoring the fact that prepublication drafts of Pandas used the term "creationism" in a way that is very different from standard formulations of creationism that caused it to be declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. (For details, see here or here.)
In the first document that Mr. Luskin cites, he argues that a blanket designation of “creationist” is inappropriate:
It is important from the outset to understand that labeling ID “creationism” simply because many of its proponents believe God created the universe would define the term so broadly as to make it largely meaningless. For example, biologist Kenneth Miller, one of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, conceded on the witness stand that he was a creationist when “creationist” is understood to mean anyone who believes that the universe was created by God.
There are two problems here. The first is that calling Kenneth Miller a “creationist” is not meaningless. Kenneth Miller is a creationist. So am I. We are both evolutionary creationists. Casey Luskin, William Dembski and Hugh Ross are Intelligent Design Creationists. Ken Ham and John Morris are Young Earth Creationists. This tree might be instructive:
Note: I have since adopted the term “evolutionary creationist” as being preferable to “Theistic Evolutionist.”

The second problem is that Luskin and others consistently use the terms “Darwinist” and “evolutionist” in their writings and, by doing so, fail to make the same distinctions that he claims are not being made about the use of the word “creationist” (see here, here, here, and here). What he and other writers of the Discovery Institute and Young Earth Creation groups mean when they use these terms is those individuals who are philosophical naturalists, but they do not make this distinction. There are many evolutionists who are also Bible-believing Christians. That is not a very useful distinction when you are trying to denigrate evolution, however.

Also, in his defense of the idea that ID is not creationism, Mr. Luskin never addresses the “smoking gun” problem of the “cdesign proponentsists.” which clearly linked the terms “creationists” and “design proponents.”

He continues:
She rants about the "Wedge document" even though its actual text is far more benign than she realizes, ignoring the fact that leading evolutionists have expressed their own motivations in the debate over ID and evolution.
Luskin fails to mention the fact that there are serious objections to the way in which Discovery Fellows like Michael Behe define science (his definition of science would accept astrology) or the fact that Phillip Johnson wants to abandon the entire scientific enterprise or that the ID movement is, in William Dembski's words, "just the Logos of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory."1 While I also accept the word of God, the Bible is not a scientific textbook, nor was it meant to be. The text of the Wedge Document is not benign with regard to dismantling the scientific enterprise.

He finishes up by writing:
Dr. Campbell might not realize it, but she just heartily endorsed what is perhaps the most illiberal and anti-freedom aspect of the Kitzmiller ruling. In America, Judge Jones' logic is usually immediately seen as bigoted because the fact that someone believes in God should never be taken as a reason to dismiss or ban their scientific views. (For a discussion, see here or here.)
More smoke and mirrors. That is not what Judge Jones did. He said absolutely nothing about belief in God. He decided that ID was religiously-based, a conclusion that was very easy to draw based on the testimony of the defense, some of whom lied in the court room about their reasons for wanting ID taught in the schools. Furthermore, I have read the book that the defense trucked into the schools in the dead of night, Of Pandas and People. The book is awful and if this is representative of the supplementary material that the supporters of this bill want to use, then the opponents of this bill have every right to voice their opposition.

I would like to have an open mind about HB 836. It is certainly true that critical thinking is required in Any scientific endeavor. Doesn't it seem odd, though, that only evolution is being singled out? Sure seems odd to me.

1William A. Dembski, (1999) Signs of Intelligence: A Primer on the Discernment of Intelligent Design, Touchstone, July-August, 84.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More on the Tennessee Bill

Tom Humphrey has written an article for the Knoxville News Sentinel on the house bill to promote “academic freedom.” He writes:

An American Civil Liberties Union leader says a bill sponsored by Knoxville's Rep. Bill Dunn is a backdoor means of promoting the teaching of creationism and the debunking of evolution in Tennessee schools.

In a House Education Subcommittee meeting, the measure was also criticized by Jerry Winters, lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, as a "lawyer's dream" containing "some of the most convoluted language I've ever seen in a bill."

Dunn said the measure -- HB368 -- is simply a move to help students become 'critical thinkers' on scientific subjects and that opponents are trying to 'get off on some tangent' by wrongfully saying 'we think there may be something hidden in there.'

As the evidence from Livingston Parrish, in Louisiana shows, that is exactly what is going on.

The story also quotes Rob Zimmer, who does not seem to be alarmed by the possible passage of the bill. Humphreys writes:
Zimmer identified himself as a scientist who previously headed a research company on genetics and has learned that many scientific theories - for example the former belief that most DNA was "junk DNA" serving no useful purpose - are refuted by more research triggered by critical thinking.
He is correct about that. I am quite certain that critical thinking would give rise to greater research and better scientific breakthroughs...if that is what the promoters of the bills really wanted. It is not. They want the dismantling of evolution teaching in public schools.

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Meanwhile, In Tennessee...

Lauri Lebo has a piece in Scientific American on the “academic freedom” bills that have popped up and sheds a spotlight on one that has just come to light in my back yard—Tennessee. She writes:
The home state of the Scopes Trial is now on the verge of adopting the "strengths and weakness" language with the February 8 introduction of House Bill 368 (pdf). A week later, its identical counterpart, SB 893, was introduced in the senate. Whereas similar bills in Oklahoma and New Mexico have already perished in committee this year, observers are watching Tennessee's developments warily.

"The fact that it's moving so quickly is a matter of concern," says Josh Rosenau, a spokesperson for the National Center for Science Education, a watchdog organization that monitors attacks on classroom teaching of evolution. "There appears to be some momentum behind it, which suggests it could pass."
So where does this bill come from?:
"…[T]oday's evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of those who tried to silence Rhea County schoolteacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925, by limiting even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory," David Fowler, head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and chief lobbyist behind Tennessee's proposed anti-evolution bill, wrote recently in an op–ed in the Chattanoogan.
One can almost see the hand labeled “Discovery Institute” up the back of his shirt making his mouth move. All of the supporters of these bills say the same thing: that they want to inject critical thinking into science. The problem is that they do not give a rip about the rest of the scientific enterprise. Chemistry? Physics? Geology? Not important. The entire focus is on evolution. They want it gone and they do not care how they go about it.

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