Friday, April 29, 2011

Lee Berger on Australopithecus sediba

Daily Web Day has a story on Lee Berger's comments at the recent American Association of Physical Anthropologists' convention. The author writes:
The researchers said that the hominin shows some surprisingly modern traits and its species may even be an ancestor of our own genus.

“We really have found something very, very odd and very unexpected,” Science Now quoted discovery team leader Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, as saying.

But other paleoanthropologists are waiting for more detailed analysis of the still-unpublished fossils before they agree on its identity or place in the human family tree.

According to new dates reported by Berger in his talk at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), the four hominin individuals died when they fell into a “death trap” in a cave about 2 million years ago at Malapa, South Africa.
The growing concensus is that A. sediba shows up just after the appearance of Homo but that it may have been on a line that gave rise to the genus Homo. The curious thing is that there is scant evidence of Homo in South Africa but quite a bit in East Africa. In East Africa, however, there are only robust australopithecines that overlap with early Homo for a good 800,000 years. I will side with those that want more evidence first.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Times Colonist on Belief in a “Supreme Being”

Patricia Reaney of Reuters has an article in the Times Colonist on belief in a “Supreme Being” around the world. She writes:

Belief in a god, or a supreme being, and some sort of afterlife is strong in many countries around the globe, according to a new Ipsos/Reuters poll.

Fifty one per cent of the 18,829 people across 23 countries who took part in the survey said they were convinced there is an afterlife and a divine entity, while 18 per cent said they don't believe in a god and 17 per cent weren't sure.

But only 28 per cent believe in creationism, the belief that a god created humans, compared to 41 per cent who believe in human evolution and 31 per cent who simply don't know what to believe.
This strikes me as probably been true, since creationism tends to be in pockets in developed nations, with the exception of the United States where it has taken a stronghold. She also notes this:
At the other end of the spectrum, among those who said they do not believe in a god or supreme being nearly 40 per cent were most likely to live in France, followed by Sweden, Belgium and Britain.
I would be curious to know exactly what the questions were but there is no link to the questionnaire. A pity.

Now playing: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe - Quartet - I) I Wanna Learn, II) She Gives Me Love, III) Who Was The First, Iv) I'm Alive
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Werner Herzog Tackles the Upper Palaeolithic

Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog has directed a documentary on Chauvet Cave in France, where the walls are covered in artwork that dates to around 30,000 years ago. Chris Garcia, writing for the Wall Street Journal, has this to say:
Because the cave is accessible only to scientists, Mr. Herzog had to acquire special permission from the French government to film inside and had to adjust to extreme time and technical limitations, using a crew of only four.

What the veteran filmmaker, 70, discovered inside was a world of subterranean splendor, namely cave paintings in pristine condition—Ice Age menageries of rhinos, lions, mammoths, bison and cave bears, amid glistening lunar-like surfaces.
The film has been shot in 3D and will be out at the end of April in the larger cities and then other places later. The funny quote from the interview, however, is about Woody Allen:
CG: You're an extremely fast filmmaker, a lot like Woody Allen.

WH: Woody Allen is like a snail. He makes a film a year. I make two to three films a year.
Now, that's funny.

Now playing: The Alan Parsons Project - In The Lap of the Gods, Pt. 2 (Backing Track Rough Mix)
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Friday, April 22, 2011

A Real Noah's Ark

Barefoot and Progressive points us to a Real-life Noah, Johan Huibers, who is building a lifesize Ark that, instead of sitting as a tourist attraction, will be sailed around the world. The video is in Dutch but you can figure out what is going on.

The video dates from a year ago so I am not sure if the thing is still getting built but it is quite a task, especially for one person. On the other hand, isn't that what Noah did?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tennessee “Academic Freedom” Bill Withdrawn

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Academic Freedom bill that was put forth by Bo Watson has been taken off the table. Andy Sher writes:
Faculty in UTC’s biological and environmental science department recently wrote a letter to the Times Free Press in which they said “every major scientific professional society ... has endorsed the Theory of Evolution as the best scientific interpretation for the development and diversification of life on Earth.”

The theory has been “scientifically tested over and over again, supported every time, for over 150 years,” the professors and instructors wrote, noting the Roman Catholic Church concluded in 1950 that evolution is not in conflict with Christian doctrine.
In Watson's defense, according to the story, he actually did go speak with the professors involved and asked them what they didn't like about the bill. Eventually, the legislature decided that it needed too much work to get it into session for this year. I have yet to see a bill like this that doesn't specifically target evolution in the hopes of subverting its teaching. Good riddance and bad rubbish.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Catch You When You Fall (1978)
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

AiG Reports Clergy Opposition to the Ark Encounter

AiG has a news update reporting that there are some that are not all that happy that a life-size copy of Noah's ark is being built in Kentucky. The “clergy” in question, in this case, is Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the subject was a debate between Lynn and Ken Ham. They write:
Rev. Lynn’s main argument was that Kentucky was subsidizing religion if the state granted incentives to the Ark Encounter LLC. In the full debate, he went on to state (falsely) that if Kentucky grants the incentives, the state would not get the full money needed for education, fire stations, etc.
In order to counter this wrong impression that the Ark project will be a drain on Kentucky’s state revenues, I made it clear that the incentives are not a grant of state funds to help build the Ark Encounter. No funds will be taken from the state budget and away from its programs (e.g., social services, schools, etc.) to help construct or operate the Ark Encounter.
Somehow, when I think of clergy, Barry Lynn is not exactly the first person that comes to mind. He does not, that I am aware of, speak for any major denomination. The catch is that, as I understand it, legally, the Ark Encounter is on solid legal footing here and so, as Ham points out, debate can only focus on the content of the exhibit, which is, of course, based on the young earth creationism model.

Here is the debate, hosted by Anderson Cooper, of CNN:

Lynn is correct that this park does promote a specific religious viewpoint and that it is, at heart, a ministry. AiG is correct, though, that what really sticks in Lynn's craw is the message that the Ark Encounter brings to the table, that dinosaurs and humans lived on earth at the same time, which, as Lynn points out, is “only true in the Flintstones.”

Ham does get a bit slithery at times, though, by saying that the park will create 14,000 jobs as a “ripple effect” with 250,000,000 dollars in the first year. When he is confronted with these funny numbers, he remarks that the critics “can say whatever they want” but that they are based on “the state's own figures.” As we have seen, that is not entirely true. Further, he takes great pains in the beginning of the interview to distance himself and AiG from the Ark Project by stating that AiG is only one member of the project. Later, however, he states “we have a track record, as an organization, at the Creation Museum” suggesting considerably greater ties between the two projects. Lynn points this out, calling AiG a “primary partner.”

I think that Ham and the builders of the Ark Encounter are taking advantage of the letter of the law, as is certainly their right, but that they are also laughing all of the way to bank, knowing that, at heart, it really is a young earth creationism ministry and is every bit as religiously-based as it looks.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Todd Wood on BIO-Complexity

Remember when the Biologic Institute produced BIO-Complexity, a new journal that would investigate the scientific evidence for design. Here was the tag line:
BIO-Complexity is a peer-reviewed scientific journal with a unique goal. It aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life. Because questions having to do with the role and origin of information in living systems are at the heart of the scientific controversy over ID, these topics—viewed from all angles and perspectives—are central to the journal's scope.
Todd Wood writes that he was originally enthusiastic about the new journal and its mission. Today, within the context of a review of a paper in that journal, he writes the following:
In the larger scheme of things, I am sensing a discouraging pattern to BIO-Complexity publications. As I quoted above, the journal is supposed to be about "testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life," which is a great goal. But this is the fifth paper published by BIO-Complexity, and it's the fifth paper that focuses on perceived inadequacies of evolution. So when are we going to test "the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life?" I don't want to be too pessimistic, though, since I am a big fan of research and technical publications. I'm genuinely happy that BIO-Complexity exists and is publishing this sort of work. I just hope that in the future, we'll begin to see some positive research for ID rather than just anti-evolution work.
Why am I not surprised? It still is not clear to me that there can ever be research that can test the scientific merit of the ID claim. The principle problem is that no mechanism exists. Because no mechanism exists and, consequently, no theory exists, ID can only be shown to be a viable explanation when all other explanations have been shown to be false. It MUST focus on anti-evolution work because as long as the evolutionary framework exists to explain the genetic and biological diversity, there is no reason to accept the ID explanation. This, to me, is a critical failing in current ID research.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Creation Museum Ad on Fox

Ken Ham is set to have an ad shown on Fox today for the Creation Museum. It is a short 30-second spot that plays the persecution role to the hilt.

Well, part of it might be because you are so hateful to those museums that teach evolution. There seems to be a lot of that going around.

Hat tip to Barefoot and Progressive.

Now playing: Tim Story - In The Winter's Pale
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Saturday, April 09, 2011

“Critical Thinking” Bill Passes Tennessee House

The Tennessee House voted 70-25 on a bill (HB 368)to promote “critical thinking” in science classrooms. Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press writes:
Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, a bill supporter, said "since the late '50s, early '60s when we let the intellectual bullies hijack our education system, we've been on a slippery slope."

He called Dunn's legislation "a common-sense bill. Thank you for bringing this bill to protect our teachers from the other intellectual bullies."

Another proponent, Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Crosby, said "evolution between one species to another species has never been proven. So how could you teach that as a fact?"

But House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said, "I question the need for this. What are we trying to improve, what problem are we trying to solve? Or are we just creating a problem here?"
To what intellectual bullies is Rep. Floyd referring? Is he referring to the science educators who wanted to bring sound science into the classroom? The language he uses is the same as that of Don McLeroy, in Texas when he meant “they took young earth creationism out of the classroom.” Why yes, they did.

Rob Zimmer remarked that we should always invite critical thinking. He is correct, but the tortured, ill-informed response of Rep. Faison indicates that there is not a whole lot of that going on here.

Now playing: Dan Fogelberg - The Reach
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Friday, April 08, 2011

New Fossils Confirm A Very Warm Earth During the Pliocene

Mollusks that have been found in Pliocene sediments indicate that the temperature may have been between 18 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today. The Pliocene was toward the tail end of the “age of the apes” in which there were large-bodied hominoids in just about every continent on earth. It was at the end of the Miocene that the ape fossil evidence begins to disappear in non-tropical areas. Kim DeRose, of PhysOrg writes:
“Our data from the early Pliocene, when carbon dioxide levels remained close to modern levels for thousands of years, may indicate how warm the planet will eventually become if carbon dioxide levels are stabilized at the current value of 400 parts per million,” said Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.
The key word in that sentence is “eventually.” Admittedly, the Pliocene is not that far back and so it is clear that the climate can change somewhat quickly. It also seems clear that the earth is going to do what the earth is going to do and there is not much we can do to change it. The temperature got that high during the Pliocene without any humans around to help it do so. It is not immediately clear that humans are going to make a whole heck of a lot of difference this time.

Now playing: Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Memoirs Of An Officer And A Gentleman
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Really, Really Off-Topic But Really Funny

What if Moses had Facebook:

Thursday, April 07, 2011

More Concern in England For Science Teaching in Public Schools

The Independent has an article updating the concerns about science teaching and young-earth creationism in public schools in England. Andrew Williams writes:
Dr Michael Behe is the biologist whose theory of Irreducible Complexity forms the supposed scientific basis of ID. I asked him about the consensus in many quarters that it is not scientific. While genially admitting that I had "hit a nerve", he defended its credentials as a science. "Science is just using physical evidence and reasoning to come to a conclusion about nature," he says. "The definition of science is supposed to help us investigate nature and if it of itself becomes a barrier, it won't serve a useful purpose."
Does Dr. Behe remember that, a scant five years ago, he defined science in a courtroom as including astrology? How does that help us investigate nature and serve a useful purpose? Williams continues:

Dr Behe, though, makes a more serious allegation about any future requirement to teach evolution in primary classes: "It shows that certain people have an agenda to get children to think like them, to indoctrinate them on their side. And to prejudice young minds to one side before they're capable of understanding is the opposite of education."

Philip Bell, the chief executive of Creation Ministries International (UK/Europe), makes the same point. He goes on to say that when we consider the facts on which science is based, we do so from a worldview point. If we approach, say, the fossil record or DNA from the viewpoint that God created the world in the way literally set out in the Bible with a global flood centuries later, the science stands up.

It does? Why cannot it get the support of any mainstream scientists, then? When people like Bell say things like this, without a trace of admission that there are serious scientific problems with this viewpoint, all credibility goes out the window. Behe's viewpoint, where science can incorporate astrology is a post-modern deconstruction of science, while Bell's is a rejection of modern science outright. I am not sure which is worse.

Now playing: David Lanz - Variations On A Theme From Pachelbel's Canon In D Major
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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Darrel Falk on Ken Ham and Christian Charity

Darrel Falk has written a BioLogos piece on the Great Home School convention/Ken Ham dustup that happened a week and half back. I posted on it a few times, including a very uncharitable post, written in anger. Darrel is quick to point out that, while Mr. Ham has made mistakes, we all have and it should be in the spirit of Christian charity and forgiveness that we move forward. He writes:
Please pray for Mr. Ham and his ministry during these days. Pray that on matters surrounding this highly divisive issue of how best to seek harmony between God’s two books we might all draw closer to God and to each other. Pray that Mr. Ham’s great fear—that BioLogos will damage the integrity of Scripture as the fully inspired Word of God—will never be realized. We understand his fear and sympathize with his concerns. Please pray that we at BioLogos might always seek the wisdom which is from above, and that we not give into the temptation to advocate a compromise purely for the sake of appearing wise.
Contrast that with the words of Mr. Ham about the event:
More and more organizations are being formed and more books printed by people—even within the church—to try to get God’s people to reject Genesis as literal history, and thus undermine the authority of God’s Word. No wonder we are losing the next generation from the church. For instance, even at this homeschool convention, there are a number of people (including speakers) that are associated with the extremely liberal Biologos Foundation—an organization that is dedicated to trying to get people in the church to believe evolution and millions of years as fact. And now they are embarking on producing homeschool curriculum—such as that from Dr. Peter Enns who spoke at this conference.

But at the same time, I praise God for the opportunity, that even in this sea of lies permeating our culture, I am able to teach the truth of God’s Word to many. Here is a photograph of me presenting at one of the sessions yesterday: (Picture not included)
A greater contrast could not be apparent. Darrel is correct, we do need to pray for all of us who are involved in this area of research. As importantly, however, we do need a dose of humility about what we think and how we arrive at the conclusions we do. My wife admonishes me to pray continually about the things I write. She is correct to do so.

I hope that Mr. Ham prays as well and that he will see that his viewpoint and attitude are harsh and unchristian. Further, they are divisive and serve only to show the outside world that, despite our protestations to the contrary, we can be very good at mean spiritedness and name-calling. Not a shining day for the image of Christianity.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips & Joji Hirota - Midway-Island of Life: Dolphins, Seals & Rays
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New BioLogos Post: The Human Fossil Record, Part 4: Australopithecus Conquers the Landscape

My newest post for BioLogos is up: The Human Fossil Record, Part 4: Australopithecus Conquers the Landscape. It focuses on the appearance of early Australopithecus and the shift to full-time bipedality.

Friday, April 01, 2011

NCSE Upchucky Award: AiG's Ark Park

The second annual NCSE Upchucky Award has been awarded:
Which creationist made us toss our cookies?

As constant as the northern wind, as tenacious as an underfed Chihuahua, as aggravating as a little brother with a squirt gun, creationists across our fair land continue to annoy and appall. They push pseudo-science in America's classrooms, textbooks, and curriculum. But which creationist was the most annoying and appalling?

It's a hard call. But at DontDissDarwin Central, making hard calls is what we do.

After much deliberation between the nominees: John Freshwater, The Louisiana Family Forum and the Ark Park, the winner was...the Ark Park:
Notes the Lexington Herald-Leader: the Ark Park is "rooted in outright opposition to science...[this] hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future."
The editorial continues:
Despite some progress in economic development, Kentucky continues to use tax incentives in pursuit of mostly low-paying, part-time seasonal jobs that would further lower the state's average wage and do little to increase the demand of higher education. This is similar to past shortsighted subsidies of chicken processing plants and customer call centers.
It certainly won't bring a national laboratory to your neck of the woods anytime soon. And is 900+ jobs for the area worth the anti-science reputation the park will get? It might be if you don't know the difference between good science and bad science.

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