Saturday, August 27, 2011

Going Dark For a Few Days

I am going to a wedding in Maine and will likely not be able to post until sometime next week. In the meantime, watch for my next BioLogos post on early Homo to be up soon.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nelson Jones: The Politics of Creationism

Nelson Jones of the New Statesman has a column on the GOP's peculiar take on evolution and creationism. He writes:
A bald statement of scientific consensus, of the type Dawkins seemingly requires of Perry, Bachmann and the others, would be a political risk and an act of courage that it is perhaps unreasonable to expect of most modern politicians. At the same time, any candidate who made a clear commitment to full-blown Creationism would find it difficult to broaden their appeal beyond the Religious Right - a body of opinion which, while powerful, is not electorally decisive. It's a subtle balancing-act, albeit one that makes little sense outside the very particular atmosphere of American politics.

Americans will be electing a president, not a professor of biology. It is indeed distressing to think that the "most powerful person in the world" (is that still true, and for how much longer?) has an incomplete knowledge of the natural sciences. But is it necessarily an indication of low political or administrative capacity, as Dawkins argues? Probably not. It is quite possible to be highly competent and efficient in most areas of life while holding eccentric beliefs (see, for example, the 19th century Congressman Ignatius Donnelly, who combined far-sighted views about tax reform with wacky ideas about Atlantis and the authorship of Shakespeare).
While this is probably true, it is to the democrats' advantage to play it up because it is often hard for the electorate to separate one position from another. It is also the tendency of the mainstream media to do this. Evidence the treatment of the tea party, which is united only by one theme: limited government and lower taxes. Despite this, they were painted as whackadoodle in all of their views and treated as one lump sum.

If people outside the very conservative evangelical bloc view the GOP candidate as being a scientifically-inept, ignorant politician, I think that he or she will have trouble getting elected, no matter how strong their economic and foreign policies are.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Huffington Post Rates GOP Candidates on Evolution

HufPo has an article where they rate the GOP candidates for President on their thoughts on evolution.

Notable: John Huntsman, who accepts evolution, has this to say:
"I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.
Mitt Romney:
Mitt Romney has said that while he believes God designed the universe, he also believes "evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body." The former Massachusetts governor admitted that his beliefs are complex and was hesitant to explicitly support intelligent design.

"I'm not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design," he said. "But I believe God is intelligent, and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body."
Rick Santorum:
"I believe in Genesis 1:1 -- God created the heavens and the earth. I don't know exactly how God did it or exactly how long it took him, but I do know that He did it. If Gov. Huntsman wants to believe that he is the descendant of a monkey, then he has the right to believe that -- but I disagree with him on this and the many other liberal beliefs he shares with Democrats. For John Huntsman to categorize anyone as 'anti-science' or 'extreme' because they believe in God is ridiculous."

Santorum once proposed an amendment that would have forced the inclusion of intelligent design in public school curricula.
Ron Paul:
Ron Paul is a creationist who decried evolution publicly in December 2007 during a Q&A session at a meeting in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

"I think there is a theory, a theory of evolution, and I don't accept it," Paul said.

Paul said he thought it was "very inappropriate" for presidential candidates to be judged on a matter of science. He also defended creationism while saying that all sides of the creation debate have an element of uncertainty.
Looks like the GOP is all over the map on this one, which is good. It will be harder to caricature the party as a whole (as I probably have done) as being anti-science and anti-evolution.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

GOP Candidate Opposes Ark Encounter in Kentucky

This is really strange. LEO Weekly has reported that the GOP front-runner for the governorship of Kentucky, currently held by Steve Beshear has come out against the construction of the Ark-n-Park. Phillip Bailey writes:
As David Williams was speaking, he off-offhandedly mentioned — while criticizing Kentucky’s tax structure — that he did not think Ark Encounter would ever be built. The project — featuring a “replica” of Noah’s Ark that depicts a 600-year old Noah herding dinosaurs onto it a few thousand years ago — is receiving a $43 million dollar tax break from the Beshear administration, which is a big cheerleader behind the project.

I asked Williams afterward about why he is skeptical of the project:

LEO Weekly: So you don’t think the Ark is going to be built?

Williams: No, I don’t think it will ever be built.

LEO: Why not?

Williams: I don’t think there’s an economic feasibility study that indicates it will ever be feasible. And it doesn’t matter how much tax credit you give anybody, in order to get tax credits, you have to have the income in order to create it. And there’s never been a feasibility study I’ve ever seen, I don’t think there’s ever been one done. I think the governor is just playing politics with this.
I never thought I would live to see the day that a GOP candidate or office-holder would come out against something YEC or ID based. Hat's off to David Williams. He then avoids the obvious question:
LEO: What do you think about dinosaurs on the ark, or are you agnostic on that?

Williams: Well, I’m not agnostic.

LEO: Well not literally agnostic. The whole young earth, dinosaurs and humans…

Williams: (deadpan) I wasn’t there.

I suspect there is going to be a lot more controversy and political in-fighting before this is over.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Matthew Blackston on BioLogos

My friend Matthew Blackston, who is a physicist here at ORNL has a post on BioLogos about cosmology, theology and God's use of time. Stop by and read it. It is very good.

Friday, August 19, 2011

AP Covers Ark-n-Park

I think it was Barry Lynn that came up with the term “Ark-n-Park” and I like it. The AP has a story on the extravaganza. This story showed up everywhere. I swiped mine from Yahoo News. Dylan Lovan writes:

"The message here is, God's word is true," said Mike Zovath, project manager of the ark. "There's a lot of doubt: 'Could Noah have built a boat this big, could he have put all the animals on the boat?' Those are questions people all over the country ask."

The ark will be the centerpiece of a proposed $155 million religious theme park, called the Ark Encounter, and will include other biblical icons like the Tower of Babel and an old world-style village.

It's an expansion of the ministry's first major public attraction, the controversial Creation Museum. It opened in 2007 and attracted worldwide attention for presenting stories from the Bible as historical fact, challenging evolution and asserting that the earth was created about 6,000 years ago.

"The ark is really a different approach" than the museum, Zovath said. "It's really not about creation-evolution, it's about the authority of the Bible starting with the ark account in Genesis."

General thoughts:
  • The idea being put forth here is that “God's word is true” and “God's word is literal” are the same thing. This is a false dichotomy and implies that every passage in the Bible is to be taken at face value and nothing more. This is counter to hundreds of years of Biblical interpretation and study and, as I have written before, results in a completely flat understanding of scripture—something that AIG is, unfortunately, quite well-known for.
  • It is good to finally see AIG front and center on this in print. It brings into sharp focus their duplicity in denying their central involvement during the questions that arose regarding the tax deduction proposal presented to the Kentucky government in complete absence of an economic impact plan.
  • “It's really not about creation-evolution, it's about the authority of the Bible starting with the ark account in Genesis.” If Mr. Zovath believes this, he is the only one who does. Fully half of AIG’s central message is an attack on evolution. The literal ark interpretation expressly implies that all of the modern-day flora and fauna are direct descendents of what was on board the ark and not the product of millions of years of evolution. They are inextricably linked and I am quite sure that there will be anti-evolutionary messages to be found at the Ark-n-Park.
Construction begins in the spring...

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick Perry in the Thick of It

Not content to call the printing of more money “treasonous,” (which really would be a bad idea) Rick Perry has now voiced his opinion about creationism and evolution. Wes Barrett writes for FoxNews: The battle between supporters of creationism and evolution made its way onto the 2012 campaign trail Thursday as a young boy, prompted by his mother, asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry questions on the subject, leading Perry to suggest both are taught in Texas public schools.
"How old do I think the Earth is?" Perry said repeating the boy's question. "I have no idea - it's pretty old. It goes back a long way - I'm not sure anyone knows really completely know how old it is."

But Perry continued, saying the boy's mother was really trying to get a response about creationism and evolution. While Texas public schools don't officially teach creationism, some claim Perry has pushed a weakened evolution curriculum to open the door for creationism in schools.

"I know your mom is asking about evolution," he said. "It's a theory that's out there and it's got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach creationism and evolution because I feel you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."
Excuse me, Mr. Perry, what exactly are those “gaps” that you are talking about? Would you please tell me because I surely would love to know what they are. I've been studying the subject for almost thirty years and I don't see any. Have you ever even taken a class in it? As for teaching creationism and evolution, the recent decision by the Texas State Board of Education would seem to rain on that parade, as well.

Politics, science education: bad mix.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

New CFSI Post

My new CFSI post is up titled Not So Different After All. It is my take on the new data that indicates that up to nine percent of non-African modern human DNA is, in fact, Neandertal in origin. All comments are welcome there and here.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ark ’n Park To Get Huge Property Tax Discounts

Kentucky.com is reporting new developments in the promotion of the Ark ’n Park involving Property Tax. Linda Blackford writes:
The city of Williamstown in Grant County has agreed to give a biblically themed amusement park a property tax discount of 75 percent over the next 30 years.

Mayor Rick Skinner said the offer is laid out in a memorandum of agreement that will be followed by a formal tax-increment financing deal with Petersburg-based Ark Encounters LLC in coming months.

The tax deal is in addition to almost $200,000 given to the company by Grant County's economic development arm as an enticement to keep the project located there, along with 100 acres of reduced-price land.

And that's not counting the state's promise of $40 million worth of sales tax rebates and a possible $11 million in improvements to the interstate near the project that would be financed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Gee, do you think they are excited about having it there? Answers in Genesis is now being referred to as “the developers.” Well, at least the mask is off.

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More Evidence of Hybridization

Nature News is reporting more evidence of hybridization between Neandertals and their contemporaries and modern humans. In the story “Ancient DNA reveals secrets of human history,” Ewen Callaway writes:
By comparing individual DNA letters in multiple modern human genomes with those in the Neanderthal genome, the date of that interbreeding has now been pinned down to 65,000–90,000 years ago. Montgomery Slatkin and Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, theoretical geneticists from the University of California, Berkeley, presented the finding at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution meeting in Kyoto, Japan, held on 26–30 July.
But more information about that hybridization has recently come to light:
Interbreeding endowed humans with a 'hybrid vigour' that helped them colonize the world, said Peter Parham, an immunogeneticist at Stanford University School of Medicine, California, at the symposium.

Parham's team compared a group of diverse immune genes — the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes — in Neanderthals, Denisovans and human groups from around the world. In several cases, Neanderthals and Denisovans carried versions of HLA genes that are abundant in modern humans in parts of Europe and Asia, but less common in Africans. Varying degrees of interbreeding could explain the mismatch, Parham says. He estimates that Europeans owe 50% of variants of one class of HLA gene to interbreeding, Asians 70–80%, and Papua New Guineans up to 95%.
The Denisova genome, if you will remember, represents a slightly different strain than that of either modern humans or Neandertals, although probably not a separate species. Here is the graphic in Nature News that shows possible migration routes.



R.I.P.: Out-of-Africa Replacement model
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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

“Academic Freedom” in Ohio

The Columbus Dispatch reports on the town of Springboro that is attempting to add “supplemental” material to their school curriculum. As the editorial writer (unsigned) points out:
There is no question that those who believe in creationism are sincere. They believe their children are being led astray, and that, taught evolution, they will question the very bedrock of their family’s faith.

Kelly Kohls, a Springboro board member pushing for creationism in the classroom, said she is doing so as a concerned parent.

“Creationism is a significant part of the history of this country,” she told the Dayton paper, “ It is an absolutely valid theory and to omit it means we are omitting part of the history of this country.”

She could take a lesson from another small community that exposed its students to “intelligent design,” a kind of creationism dressed up to look more scientific.
The reference is, of course, to the Dover, Pennsylvania trial in 2005, which was a rout for evolution education supporters.The editor fears that such a trial would come to Springboro in no time, were the materials added. They are probably right. Such a trial may be brewing in Livingston Parrish, Louisiana, as well. What is happening is that local school boards are interpreting the latitude of the academic freedom legislation to allow supplemental material as license to teach creationism.

Gee, who didn't see that coming?

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Monday, August 08, 2011

The Role of Savannahs in Human Evolution

It now appears that grassland savannahs stretched further than originally thought during the critical time when human precursors became bipedal. As the Gence France Presse reports:
"There have been open habitats for all of the last six million years in the environments in eastern Africa where some of the most significant early human fossils were found," said Thure Cerling, a professor at the University of Utah and lead researcher of the study.

"Wherever we find human ancestors, we find evidence for open habitats similar to savannahs - much more open and savannah-like than forested," he said in a statement.
It still remains to be explained how Ardipithecus developed a bipedal gait within a forest environment, though.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Hugh Ross on Common Ancestry

What in the Wide World of Sports is a' Goin' on at RTB??????????

One of my readers clued me in to a podcast by Hugh Ross in which he tackles theistic evolution, otherwise known as evolutionary creationism. The title of the series is “I did not know that.” This particular talk can be found here.

The focus of the talk is how there is evidence for a historical Adam and Eve and that they were created between fifty and sixty thousand years ago. He specifically contrasts theistic evolution with what he calls the “Biblical model for human origins,” as if there is no theological basis for TE.

His understanding of TE is that we evolved from early ape forms but that it was controlled by God in a way that we scientists can never discover. This is a peculiar statement because science, left to its own devices, is not in the business of discovering whether or not God controlled events and processes. It is through faith that people believe in God.

Ross is one of the original proponents of the “tweaking” argument—that the universe shows evidence of a divine hand that tweaked the gravitational constants and elemental formation in just such a way as to allow life to occur. One degree off either way and...nothing. This is put forth in his book Fingerprint of God.

As I have mentioned before, the problem with this argument is that it is post hoc. We think that it is tweaked because we are here to observe it. There was always a slight probability that the universe would have developed like this anyway.

First he argues that evolution cannot explain the complexity of life because the second law of thermodynamics will degrade the genome of any species over time.

Wrong.

The second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems. Hugh Ross is a physicist and he is not aware that the earth is not a closed system? How can that be? It is part of the earth/sun system. There is also interaction with other bodies such as the moon. Everything on earth receives energy from the sun and this, in itself, is a thermodynamic process. Further, as someone else put it, if the earth really is a closed system, then God cannot operate in it. As soon as you introduce intervention from outside, the system opens. Onward...

He then says that the human genome has gotten more decayed over time since the creation of Adam and Eve also because of the influence of the second law of thermodynamics.

Wrong.

The second law of thermodynamics does not explain this. Genetics does. Our genome is more decayed (if you will) because of the influence of genetic load. With extensive gene flow, bad alleles are masked and can persist in a population in large numbers without expression. As we have been able to address many genetic defects with medical treatments, the number of these alleles has increased in our population. This is especially true in western nations, where our diet and behavior has created even more problems for us.

Ross states that there is evidence that modern humans have not been around very long because in Chromosome 21, there are only three different haplotypes and that, if humanity was older than that, there would be more.

Wrong.

This is a complete misread of a paper by Jin, et al (1999)1 in which the authors study the haplotypes of Chromosome 21 in an effort to shed light on modern human origins. For one thing, there aren't three haplotypes, as Ross asserts. There are ten. There are three haplogroups that suggest that there were three migratory episodes of modern humans out of Africa. Ross focuses on the word “entropy” and, unfortunately, interprets it the way a physicist would. In this case, entropy refers to a function of Wrights Fst, which is a measure of genome variability. For example, North Americans have less entropy because they have greater genetic homogeneity than other groups that were studied. It has nothing to do with thermodynamics.

Ross argues that the chromosomal evidence that humans and the higher apes have a different number of chromosomes is invalid or misunderstood. In the early 1990s, it was discovered that human chromosome two is an end-to-end-fusion of two ape chromosomes. A close examination of chromosome two revealed that, while the other twenty-two chromosomes have one centromere, or central segment, human chromosome two has an extra non-functional centromere. Furthermore, while every chromosome has end segments known as telomeres, human chromosome two has inactive adjacent telomere segments in the middle of the chromosome. It is argued that, sometime in our early past, there was a translocation of two chromosomes to form Chromosome two. Ross argues that such a translocation could not possibly have happened because this would be “catastrophic for the organism” and would result in death.

Wrong.

There are many documented cases of translocation in animal species. There are species of horses that have different numbers of chromosomes and yet can produce fertile offspring. Ross further hampers his argument by saying that the jury is still out on whether or not the evidence is real because they might only appear to be centromeres and telomeres. This is, again, nonsense. It is obvious what they are. Further, how does he explain the duplication of the genes sequences in each chromosome?

Ross then tackles evidence for common ancestry contained in the disovery that the great apes and humans share the inability to manufacture vitamin C. He argues that in place of the inability to produce vitamin C is a new mechanism that recycles vitamin C in apes and humans. This is, he argues, not a loss of genetic function so much as it is a gaining of a new function. What Ross side-steps here and never mentions is that the arising of this mechanism in apes and humans is still evidence of common ancestry. In fact, it is better evidence because it means that exaptation happened in a common ancestor which was then passed on to each line.

And how does the evidence of the creation of a new mechanism in apes and humans figure into his idea of genome degradation?

He then launches into a discussion of the mitochondrial DNA evidence for the origins of modern humans and suggests that it demonstrates that we are descended from one woman (Eve) and then argues that this person likely lived between 50 and 60 thousand years ago. He further argues that Adam lived at the same time, based on Y-Chromosome evidence. This is their “testable creation model.”

There is a distinct problem with the harmonization of this evidence and the Bible. First, you have to really stretch the biblical genealogies to get them as far back as 50 to 60 thousand years. Second, while it is true that there was one original mtDNA variant from which modern humans are said to have arisen, that does not mean that there was only one woman alive at the time. In fact, there is evidence that there were thousands of modern humans alive at the time and that there was no distinct human couple at all.

Worse, the new evidence indicating that modern humans have 9% Neandertal genes calls into serious question the integrity of modern Homo sapiens as a unique species, suggesting that we are much, much older than we thought—perhaps 200 to 300 thousand years old.

He closes out by suggesting that the DNA evidence supports the disembarkation of four women and four men from Noah's ark, like that in Genesis 6-8. Aside from the genetic data indicating that the modern human population bottleneck reported by Venema occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, not the Middle East, there is not a scrap of biological, geological or palaeontological evidence that there was a world-wide flood of any kind.

In one fell swoop, RTB has turned its back on its historical Old-earth, progressive creation model and embraced the heart of young earth creationism, a model that has no serious scientific support of any kind. Is this really what RTB wants to do? If it really is accepting the idea that there were only eight people alive at the time of the flood, it must. It has always carved out a place that is separate from that of the major YEC groups and attempted to use conventional science as support for its apologetics. Now it seems that they are willing to accept a completely concordist model, even if it means the world-wide flood model, warts and all.

Not a fine day for scholarship.

1Jin, L., Underhill, P. A., Doctor, V., et al. (1999). Distribution of haplotypes from a chromosome 21 region distinguishes multiple prehistoric human migrations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 96(7), 3796-3800. doi: http://www.pnas.org/content/96/7/3796.abstract

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Chris Mooney Wonders “Why The Scientifically Literate Can Believe Silly Things”

In an article for Discover Magazine, Chris Mooney asks this question. He opines:
If you understand motivated reasoning, then you understand that high levels of knowledge, education, and sophistication are no defense against wrongheaded views like climate change denial and anti-evolutionism. What I’ll call “sophistication” may even make these phenomena worse, at least among those with deeply ideological or religious views.

The reason is that when we “reason” in areas where we have strong beliefs, our emotions come first and then we rationalize our pre-existing views. And those better at generating self-affirming arguments will be better rationalizers, will fall in love with their own seemingly brilliant arguments, and their minds will become harder to change (but they’ll love to argue
).
There is also the considerable problem of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. ”For some of the large groups that deal with this issue, such as the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis and Creation Research Ministries, they get things so obviously wrong that blowing the arguments out of the sky is a comparatively easy task. Other groups, however, such as Reasons to Believe and The Discovery Institute use arguments that are subtle and require a considerable amount of knowledge in a given field to determine where they go off the rails. Just ask Steve Matheson and Todd Wood. Given the Discovery Institute's active role in trying to influence anti-evolution legislation, it becomes increasingly important to alert people to these errors, since your average legislator won't be able to spot them.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Americans United On the Rise of Creationism

Americans United has a long post on the rise of what it calls “creationism,” which is really anything dealing with either young earth creationism or intelligent design. The article, by Rob Boston veers uncomfortably close to home:
The debate that took place on the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives in April could not exactly be described as a feast for the intellect.

Legislators were deliberating a bill that would open the door to creationism in public schools by requiring schools to “find effective ways” to teach about three “controversial” ideas: evolution, global warming and human cloning.

The discussion quickly degenerated into name-calling when one bill supporter called opponents “intellectual bullies,” reported the Knoxville News Sentinel.

One lawmaker even tried to press Albert Einstein into service. Rep. Frank Niceley, a Republican from Strawberry Plains, asserted that Einstein once said, “A little knowledge would turn your head to atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head to Christianity.”

Niceley should have checked his facts: Einstein, who was raised Jewish and usually referred to himself as an agnostic, never said that. Something similar was once uttered by English philosopher Francis Bacon – 400 years ago
.
When it comes to discussions of evolution on the floors of state legislatures, facts and general knowledge about the subject are usually in absence. Legislators usually try to pass academic freedom bills because, hey isn't that a good thing? They are usually unaware of the agendas behind such legislation, which is to remove evolution from the public school curriculum or to teach recent earth creationism. Read the whole thing.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Did the Neandertals Get Swamped?

Well, now it seems that the Neandertals didn't get replaced in Europe, they got swamped. As the story in Science Daily puts it:
By conducting a detailed statistical analysis of the archaeological evidence from the classic 'Perigord' region of southwestern France, which contains the largest concentration of Neanderthal and early modern human sites in Europe, they have found clear evidence that the earliest modern human populations penetrated the region in at least ten times larger numbers than those of the local Neanderthal populations already established in the same regions. This is reflected in a sharp increase in the total number of occupied sites, much higher densities of occupation residues (i.e. stone tools and animal food remains) in the sites, and bigger areas of occupation in the sites, revealing the formation of much larger and apparently more socially integrated social groupings.
This makes sense. Even though modern humans show up on the landscape in the Levant around 100 thousand years ago, there would have been very little reason to go into Europe during the height of the Early Würm glaciation, between 100 and 40 thousand years ago. During the Würm interglacial, between 40 and 34 thousand years ago, though, the corridors would have been open, allowing for a massive influx that would have percolated through Europe over the next ten to fifteen thousand years. Here is the graphic from the Science Daily story.




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