Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Forbes: Ark Encounter Local Tax Scandal Not Very Scandalous

I bit back I reported on the sale, not once but twice, of the Ark Encounter for $10 that, to all appearances, looked like a tax dodge gone bad.  Now Peter J. Reilly, who has written extensively about the Kent Hovind case, argues that, no it really was not that scandalous.  About the back and forth sale, he writes:
That had me a little excited, but as it turns out there is no federal tax issue. If you look at the Forms 990 filed by Answers in Genesis and Crosswater Canyon, you will find that Crosswater and AIG are both 501(c)(3) organizations and that Ark Encounter LLC is wholly owned by Crosswater making it, absent a special election, a disregarded entity. Transactions between the owner of a disregarded entity and the the disregarded entity are, for federal tax purposes, you know, disregarded. Status as a disregarded entity might not a apply for various local tax purposes. I wrote about an Orthodox Jewish school in Lakewood NJ that got tripped up by that. Apparently a similar rule applies in Kentucky, but I'm not equipped to dig deep there at this point.
Reilly sees that the coverage in the news about the transfer was very one-sided (and I did rely on that for my posts), but that there really was an ethical issue. He continues:
Ark Encounter's complaint of unfair treatment by the media might have some merit. Linda Blackford's coverage appears to me to be pretty solid and balanced, but some of what has been in the blogosphere has not been. For example, consider Dan Arel's headline - Ken Ham Sells Ark Encounter Land To Himself For $10 To Avoid Paying Taxes. I don't see that as a fair characterization as to what happened. Hemant Mehta's treatment on Patheos, though quite critical, is fairer and gives full credit to the new sources. Derek Welch of World Religion News got it backward saying that Ark Encounter sold the property to its subsidiary. The transfer was actually upstream.

On the other hand, I'm not displeased to see how they were hoist on their own petard when they transferred the property to beat the city tax. Overall the whole thing strikes me more as clumsy than smacking of deep conspiracy. All in, I think it was a mistake for the Ark to try to be frugal when it comes to supporting local services. Apparently, they think $500,000 is enough, but anything the city got over and above that would be from higher attendance.
The whole thing certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of the people of the Town, including the mayor. It also struck many, if legal, unethical. For someone like Ham, who decries the downfall of civilization because of moral failure, this seems a tad hypocritical.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Greek Fossil Site Vandalized

Someone has vandalized the site containing the 5.7 million year old footprints in Crete.  Australian News Limited reports:
Some four to 10 prints appear to have been hacked out of the rock.

And graffiti has been sprayed over much of the remainder.

It’s an attack with devastating implications for the science of understanding humanity’s past.

“We are fortunate that many of the best tracks remain — the people who did it clearly didn’t know what they were looking for,” Professor Bennett writes. “Our guess is that they were simply intending to sell them.”

The site had been recognised under Greek heritage laws, and local authorities were supposed to be watching it.

Greek media reports a 55-year-old man has been arrested in western Crete and that many of the prints may have been recovered.
I certainly hope so. And I certainly hope that very hefty fines and possibly jail terms will be levied against those involved. As for the people in the organization that was supposed to be watching the site, I hope they are out of a job.

Time will have to tell how much damage was actually done but this is nothing less than a travesty.  Because truly stupid people are never in short supply, many of the Neandertal sites in Europe were also looted before they could be fully excavated.  This should be embarrassing to the Greek government. 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

5.7 Million Year-Old Human Footprints Found on Greek Island of Crete

Great Googlymoogly!  This one is lighting up all over the Internet.  Fossil footprints have been found in the southern Greek Island of Crete, near the village of Trachilos, that appear to have the distinctive heel-toe-off gait of bipedal humans.  The catch? The prints are 5.7 million years old!  From PhysOrg:
Human feet have a very distinctive shape, different from all other land animals. The combination of a long sole, five short forward-pointing toes without claws, and a hallux ("big toe") that is larger than the other toes, is unique. The feet of our closest relatives, the great apes, look more like a human hand with a thumb-like hallux that sticks out to the side. The Laetoli footprints, thought to have been made by Australopithecus, are quite similar to those of modern humans except that the heel is narrower and the sole lacks a proper arch. By contrast, the 4.4 million year old Ardipithecus ramidus from Ethiopia, the oldest hominin known from reasonably complete fossils, has an ape-like foot. The researchers who described Ardipithecus argued that it is a direct ancestor of later hominins, implying that a human-like foot had not yet evolved at that time.

The new footprints, from Trachilos in western Crete, have an unmistakably human-like form. This is especially true of the toes. The big toe is similar to our own in shape, size and position; it is also associated with a distinct 'ball' on the sole, which is never present in apes. The sole of the foot is proportionately shorter than in the Laetoli prints, but it has the same general form. In short, the shape of the Trachilos prints indicates unambiguously that they belong to an early hominin, somewhat more primitive than the Laetoli trackmaker. They were made on a sandy seashore, possibly a small river delta, whereas the Laetoli tracks were made in volcanic ash.
And now, the other shoe.  How do we know how old the fossil footprints are?  
The coastal rocks at Trachilos, west of Kissamos Harbour in western Crete (Fig. 1a–c), lie within the Platanos Basin, and present a succession of shallow marine late Miocene carbonates and siliciclastics of the Roka Formation, a local development of the Vrysses Group (Freudenthal, 1969 ; van Hinsbergen and Meulenkamp, 2006; Figs. 1d, e and 3a, b). At the top, this marine succession terminates abruptly in the coarse-grained terrigenous sedimentary rocks of the Hellenikon Group (Figs. 1d and 3e, f), which formed by the desiccation of the Mediterranean Basin during the Messinian Salinity Crisis (van Hinsbergen and Meulenkamp, 2006), an event dated to approximately 5.6 Ma (Govers, 2009). The succession (Fig. 1d) contains an emergent horizon with well-preserved terrestrial trace fossils and microbially induced sedimentary structures (Fig. 3d) immediately overlying shallow water ripplemark structures (Fig. 3c).1
So, the authors are a tad more circumspect than the writers of the PhysOrg story.  The authors posit two hypotheses for their results: 1. the tracks represent the gait of a basal hominin, which explains the non-divergence and shape of the big toe as well as the shape of the ends of the other toes, which resemble those of a human foot and not a non-human foot.  This fits approximately with the dates of the north African remains of Orrorin and, perhaps, that of Sahelanthropus (although that is pretty much a surface find).

The Messinian Crisis was a period of time during the Miocene epoch during which the Mediterranean Sea almost completely dried up.  This crisis began around 6 million years ago and ended around 5.3 million years ago with what is known as the Zanclean flood.  It is estimated that once the barrier at the Strait of Gibraltar was broken, the Mediterranean Sea refilled within two years, which means that the sea level rose at an estimated 30 feet per day.

Okay...now, lets go back here, to the story that came out about four months ago, establishing the possibility that the last common ancestor to apes and humans was in Europe.  In that study, a jaw with human root patterns and an isolated premolar that have both been attributed to Graecopithecus, were re-examined and found by the researchers to have hominin affinities, a surprising conclusion, given their age of 7.15 million years.  At the time that story appeared, I remarked that it was a bit of a stretch to hang one's hat on one premolar and partial ape-like mandible, but in the context of the new finds, maybe not so much.  This strengthens the (admittedly far-fetched) notion that our ancestors did, in fact, originate somewhere in southeast Mediterranean Europe and, over the course of the next two and half million years ago, migrated south to north Africa.

As Per Ahlberg was quoted as saying:
"This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate. Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen."
This is huge news.  Even if we can't place the LCA in southern Europe, we now have bipedalism extending back into the late Miocene. 


1Gerard D. GierliƄski et al, Possible hominin footprints from the late Miocene (c. 5.7 Ma) of Crete?, Proceedings of the Geologists' Association (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.07.006


Will Moroccan Schools Teach Evolution Again

Writing for the Morocco World News, Amal Ben Hadda wonders if the discovery of more early modern human remains from the site of Jebel Irhoud will prompt the government to reintroduce evolution into the curriculum:
While these new discoveries are “shaking up” the scientific community, we should ask ourselves why these theories of evolution are not being taught in Moroccan schools. Why is this scientific approach to revealing the origin of humanity not considered in the manuals programs?

From a religious perspective, some Muslim scholars support the study of human evolutionary theory. The different levels of human conception are mentioned in many verses in the Quran. However, the exegeses of these verses have been influenced by Talmudic interpretations of the Torah and have been accepted as authentic versions of the human “genesis”. As an example of this influence, there is the creation of woman from Adam’s rib. This version, interpreted from the Torah and resumed by mainstream Islamic exegeses, doesn’t exist in the Quran.

In the original text of the Torah, the chapter Genesis shows in 1:27 that man and woman were conceived at the same level and no one is superior to another. However, this woman was diabolized by the patriarchal tradition. Only the version of the creation of woman from Adam’s rib named Eve is considered by the creationists as per the interpretations of the Genesis 2:23.
It is interesting to note that Islam seems to have the same issue that Christianity does in that modern interpretations of scripture have taken hold within a large subset of Muslims regarding this issue.  In Christianity, the days of creation were never originally written as seven sequential, 24-hour periods, yet that is the perspective of a large number of conservative evangelical Christians.  He author calls for a neutral interpretation of the Koran.  I would argue that we need a similar interpretation of the Bible. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

Meanwhile, Over in South Korea...

The Korea Times is running a story about the controversy over creationism in South Korea.  Park Jae-hyuk writes:
The deep-rooted dispute over creationism has arisen here again after Park Seong-jin, the designate for SMEs and startups minister, was found to have worked for an institute supporting what most scientists regard as pseudoscience.

Creationism is a fundamentalist Christian movement that denies the theory of evolution and considers Biblical creation stories as proven facts.

Although Park told reporters this week that he “respects” the theory of evolution despite his religious beliefs, controversy over the issue will highly likely go on, given that opposition parties are expected to mention it during the upcoming confirmation hearing.

“As a Christian, I have a faith in a religion based on creation, but I do not believe creation as a science,” the minister nominee told reporters. “I’ve never individually studied creation science either.”

In response to his remarks during a symposium at Yonsei University in 2007 that “People armed with belief in creation should be deployed in every fields of society,” Park explained the remarks were just made for guests from the United States.

Saying that faith is not subject to qualification, Cheong Wa Dae has dismissed the controversy. Park quit his position as director at the Korea Association for Creation Research (KACR) just a day before his nomination.
It is not a given that this will create problems for South Korean science any more than the appointment of Betsy DeVos will in this country. That is predicated, however, on the idea that the two forms of government are broadly similar in behavior. If they are not, then things could change.Stay tuned.