Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Diane Douglas Unsuccessful at Limiting Evolution in Arizona Public Schools

Ars Technica is reporting that Diane Douglas, who had campaigned on editing the Arizona public school science standaards, has lost a primary race to another Republican challenger, scuttling her attempts.  John Timmer writes:
As we noted in our earlier coverage, Douglas has in the past suggested that schools teach intelligent design, which is the idea that life arose and diversified due to the intervention of an intelligent agent rather than evolution. It's an idea that was generated for religious purposes, and its teaching has been ruled an imposition of religion by the courts. She has also misunderstood the status of a scientific theory in suggesting that it reflected the idea that our knowledge of evolution is uncertain. These beliefs seem to have motivated her intervention into the science standards.

In September, however, Douglas' attempts to inject her beliefs into Arizona's classrooms ran into a couple of problems. To begin with, she faced a number of challengers during the Republican primary for her position; two of them received more votes than she did, meaning she won't have her party's nomination for re-election. Then, at a state school board meeting, the Arizona Science Teachers Association suggested a number of changes that restored details of climate change and evolution to the proposed standards.
Once again, I think that it is absolutely essential that people who are running for these positions should have to pass a basic test in scientific knowledge.  That is the only way to weed out the nonsense.


Hat Tip to Rob Mitchell.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Neandertal Teeth 450Ky Old Found in Italy

The Smithsonian is reporting that excavations in Italy have uncovered teeth dated to 450 thousand years ago that have Neandertal characteristics.
A fossil tooth study published today in the journal PLOS ONE analyzes some of the oldest human remains ever found on the Italian Peninsula. The teeth, which are some 450,000 years old, have some telltale features of the Neanderthal lineage of ancient humans. Dating back to the Middle Pleistocene, the fossils help to fill in gaps in an intriguingly complex part of the hominid family tree.

The species Homo neanderthalensis shares an unknown common ancestor with our own species, Homo sapiens, but it’s unclear exactly when the lineages diverged. Homo sapiens evolved perhaps 300,000 years ago, according to the fossil record, while Neanderthals’ evolutionary timeline has proven even trickier to pin down. Some genetic studies suggest that their lineage split from our own as long as 650,000 years ago, but the oldest definitive fossil evidence for Neanderthals extends back only about 400,000 years.
Conventional wisdom is that Neandertals emerged around 200 thousand years ago, in Europe. The Atapuerca Sima de Los Huesos remains, which show pre-Neandertal characteristics, are about the same age as the Italian remains. It has been suggested that Homo heidelbergensis is the common ancestor to both Neandertals and modern humans but this is far from clear. The genetics suggests that Neandertals and modern humans split around 600 thousand years ago but interacted as recently as 60 to 70 thousand years ago and interbred.Modern Europeans have between 3 and 6% Neandertal genes. 

This pushes back the origins of Neandertals and further muddies the picture of when and where these groups were and how they interacted.  More puzzle pieces. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Did the LCA Have Teeth More Like a Gorilla?

Artificial intelligence is playing a role in understanding human evolution.  From the Australian site News.com comes a story about new work in trying to understand what the last common ancestor to apes and humans might have looked like:
IT’S an image imprinted on our brains: the steady march of evolution from chimp to human. But it’s not quite right.

Monkeys don’t belong on the tree. They have tails.

Chimps, which don’t, are with Bonobos our closest living relatives. And, as such, both should be standing alongside us in the march of life.

Stretching out behind should be a gradually converging branch of earlier variations.

Ultimately, between six and eight million years ago, the branches almost certainly converge on one common ancestor.

We know almost nothing about what that was.
We have reasonably secure evidence of bipedality at around 6 million years in the form of Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya, as well as a crushed skull from Chad called Sahelanthropus that may or may not be 7 million years old, and recently, fossil footprints, purporting to show bipedal walking, from Crete have been uncovered that have been dated to around 5.7 million years ago.  Beyond that, nothing.  That is where the new AI study comes in.
The researchers used machine learning to teach an artificial intelligence to identify and classify fossilised hominid teeth dating from 25 million years ago. It then sifted through these to find patterns of development.

The study published in the science journal PaleoBios found one tantalising tip.

Our common ancestor almost certainly had gorilla-like teeth.

Now, it’s not a lot. And it certainly doesn’t say our ancestor was a gorilla.

But what it does do is add some shape and substance to this nebulous period of our human origins.
The information that is contained in the article is not nearly as cut and dried as is indicated by the news story. From the conclusion:
Given that the divergence of humans and chimpanzees occurred in the late Miocene, and that Miocene apes are much more similar to Gorilla in dental proportions, we assert that gorillas are the more appropriate extant model for the African ape LCA in terms of the relative sizes of the postcanine teeth. This similarity in dental proportions likely has implications for the interpretation of dietary adaptation and possibly phylogenetic relationships in Miocene apes, including the chimpanzee-human last common ancestor.
What this likely means is that, during the Miocene, which was the golden age of the apes, even after the divergence of Gorillas from the main line, there were extant forms that continued to have varying degrees of traits that could be associated with gorillas, presenting a classic case of collateral ancestry.  It is possible that one of the lines eventually led to chimpanzees, while another led to us.  We won't know more until we actually have some fossil remains from that missing time period. 
.

Friday, September 21, 2018

World's Oldest Animal Identified

A story in CNN (linked from elsewhere) reports that the world's oldest fossil has now been dated.  Rob Picheta writes:
The oldest known animal in the geological record has been identified, in a discovery that scientists are calling "the Holy Grail of palaeontology."
Fat molecules discovered on the fossil of a mysterious creature called Dickinsonia have confirmed that that it lived 558 million years ago, making it the earliest known member of the animal kingdom.
The findings place its existence 20 million years before the Cambrian Explosion event, when major animals began appearing on the fossil record.
The fossil was first discovered by Australian scientists on a remote Russian cliff face by the White Sea in 1947 and the study, published Friday, brings to an end a decades-long debate to identify what it was.
Here is an uncredited photo of the animal:

How do we know it had "fat" molecules? Apparently, it was so well preserved that it had traces of cholesterol.
"Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Ediacaran Biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution or the earliest animals on Earth," Brocks said.
"The fossil fat now confirms Dickinsonia as the oldest known animal fossil."
Another piece of the puzzle.



Wednesday, September 19, 2018

God, Marriage and Kent Hovind

If you have been following the trials and tribulations of Kent Hovind, you will know that he was once known as "Dr. Dino" and has been a staunch young earth creationist for some time.  He also kind of represents the wild wild west of creationism.  For starters, he has been roundly criticised for his academic credentials, which are somewhat more than suspect.  Prominently known for his Hovind Challenge,  he also came to the attention of the IRS, who charged him first with tax evasion and then for structuring, once he was already in jail.

Peter J. Reilly has been following the career of Kent Hovind for some time as it pertains to his tax evasion. Hovind wound up spending eight years in prison for tax evasion and almost had his sentence increased for the subsequent structuring.

Reilly's most recent column is, however, a cautionary tale involving Hovind's second ex-wife, Mary Tocco.  Through a lengthy interview, she shares her initial thoughts and then consequent misgivings about how Hovind was running his business.  The account is well worth reading, if nothing else to see how a good person can become derailed by a charlatan.  Reilly writes:
Ms. Tocco having a lot more at stake than I did looked pretty intensely into the structure that was designed to keep the man who didn't think he did anything wrong the first couple of times from getting in trouble again. And more importantly not having his second wife sucked into the vortex as his first wife was.
You don't need a palantir to see how the story ends but it reveals much about the conspiracy-theory-minded Hovind and how far off the rails he has gone.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Suzanne Sadedin: Is There A Place For Evolution In Intelligent Design?

Suzanne Sadedin, writing for Forbes, wonders if there is room for evolution in the Intelligent Design Movement.  This article came out almost a month ago but I have been so swamped (as well as recovering from hernia surgery) that I missed it.  She writes:
Intelligent design and evolution don’t have to be opposed. Most versions of intelligent design (other than some kinds of Young Earth Creationism) these days acknowledge some evolution, at least within species. So clearly intelligent design can include evolution. Many people are content to believe in some sort of intelligent, powerful but largely hands-off creator, who might have given evolution a nudge here and there. There’s no way anyone can prove them wrong (though I think there are good reasons not to share their beliefs).

However, when people say they believe in intelligent design, what they are usually claiming is that biology requires an intelligent designer. This goes beyond the claim that current evolutionary theory is inadequate to explain everything in biology (which any biologist could agree with). It is the claim that there can never be an adequate theory of biology without an intelligent designer.

This claim irritates biologists. But not because we are all hyper-aggressive New Atheists (we’re not). It’s irritating because the fundamental purpose of science is prediction. If adding an extra element to a scientific theory doesn’t improve its predictive power, we leave that element out. Thus, until intelligent design advocates can demonstrate that adding an intelligent designer to the theory of evolution improves our predictions, biologists will go on leaving the intelligent designer out.
This last point is very, very important. Most scientists that I know don't factor in religious belief or the existence of a creator into their hypothetical models because there is no way to test for them. I know quite a few who practice science on a daily basis (chemical engineerings, physicists, biologists, to name a few) who are Bible-believing Christians but who largely practice science in a methodologically naturalistic way. Underlying this practice is a general sense that the created universe has an order and rules that it follows.

My daughter, the other day, told me that before Isaac Newton discovered gravity, people could fly. It was, of course, a joke but it reminded me that gravity, as a force, effectively holds the universe together and if it were to suddenly not work the way we think it does, it would be catastrophic for all life. Cars are designed (well or badly) so that they will hold the road against the pull of gravity. When the testing of them occurs, it doesn't occur to the designers that the pull of gravity will change because it never has. Nowhere in their calculations is the thought that God might “lift the car off the ground and fly it through the air.” Why? Because that has never been observed.

This overall perspective hearkens back to Darwin's original position: whether or not a creator exists, in everyday scientific explanations of how things work, invoking a creator is not necessary.  Things can be explained without reference to William Paley.  It doesn't mean there isn't a God.  I happen to believe that there is.  What it does mean is that it is of no value to factor my belief into my hypotheses about how things work in the world.  If God oversees the whole process, then everything that happens is in keeping with His plan, anyway, evolution included.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Trouble in Arizona

Okay, time to get back in the saddle.  The Arizona Republic is running a story out of Arizona that is very disconcerting:
Here is a bit of instruction from a guy Superintendent Diane Douglas tapped to help review Arizona’s standards on how to teach evolution in science class: The earth is just 6,000 years old and dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark. But only the young ones. The adult ones were too big to fit, don’t you know.
"Plenty of space on the Ark for dinosaurs – no problem," Joseph Kezele explained to Phoenix New Times' Joseph Flaherty.
Flaherty reports that in August, Arizona's soon-to-be ex-superintendent appointed Kezele to a working group charged with reviewing and editing the state’s proposed new state science standards on evolution.
From the Phoenix New Times story:
Kezele teaches biology at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix. He advocates teaching his version of "established, real science" in classrooms.

Evolution, he said, is a false explanation for life and should be taught so that students "can defend against it, if they want to."

"I'm not saying to put the Bible into the classroom, although the real science will confirm the Bible," Kezele told Phoenix New Times in an interview on Wednesday. "Students can draw their own conclusions when they see what the real science actually shows."

He argued that scientific evidence supports his creationist ideas, including the claims that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs were on board Noah's Ark.

ADE spokesperson Stefan Swiat said that Kezele was selected because of his position at Arizona Christian University. Swiat was unaware if Douglas knew that Kezele was a creationist when she selected him.
It is good bet that Diane Douglas knew exactly what Kezele thinks about evolution. If not, then she is extremely derelict in her job, managing to overlook a critical area of science education. She has expressed a desire that both creationism and evolution should be taught.   Depending on how this is handled, however, there are two sides to this.  One is that evolution will be taught but that the teaching of it will be severely hampered by the Arizona school board.  The other possibility is that it will provide science teachers with an opportunity to show evolution's strengths and creationism's weaknesses.  Not sure how this one is going to turn out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Neandertal/Denisovan Hybrid?

As J. Lawrence Angel once said: “When two groups of people meet, they may fight, but they will always mate.”  A story is now coming out of Russia describing more research at the Denisova Cave, in the Altai Mountain region that recounts exactly what Angel was talking about.  From Richard Coniff, at Scientific American:
In a remarkable twist in the story line of early human evolution, scientists have announced the discovery of “Denisova 11”—a female who was at least 13 years old, lived more than 50,000 years ago and was a child of mixed parentage. Her parents were not just of different races, but two different and now-extinct early human types. Their exact taxonomic designations—whether they were separate species or subspecies—is still a matter of scientific debate. But the bottom line for Denisova 11 is that mom was a Neandertal and dad a Denisovan.
This is a remarkable claim, similar to the one that Erik Trinkaus made about the Lagar Velho child discovered in Portugal that is thought to be a Neandertal/modern human offspring. What evidence has been marshalled to support this claim?  In a word: genetics.  The evidence is taken from another bone fragment from the site.  From the abstract:
The father, whose genome bears traces of Neanderthal ancestry, came from a population related to a later Denisovan found in the cave. The mother came from a population more closely related to Neanderthals who lived later in Europe than to an earlier Neanderthal found in Denisova Cave, suggesting that migrations of Neanderthals between eastern and western Eurasia occurred sometime after 120,000 years ago. The finding of a first-generation Neanderthal–Denisovan offspring among the small number of archaic specimens sequenced to date suggests that mixing between Late Pleistocene hominin groups was common when they met.
So, if they interbred regularly (or regularly enough, anyway), why aren't they just one species?  Svante Paabo argues that it is because they simply did not come together very often.  To this, I would argue that they probably also had fairly distinct cultures. 

If this kind of information had come out a few decades back, there would have been quite a few squawks and naysayers but as the evidence piles up for hybridization between many different groups throughout the Pleistocene, researchers have become more accepting of it.  It is pretty clear that the evolutionary picture was a whole lot more complex than we thought. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

More Evidence of Complex Tool Creation By Archaic Homo sapiens

New excavations at Boxgrove, a site which dates from approximately 300 thousand years ago has yielded tools that show more complex creation strategies.  From the Independent:
The specific stone tools which were analysed as part of the study were sophisticated flint hand axes, which had required a special technique to shape them.

The technique is known to prehistorians as ‘platform preparation’. In most very early stone tools, the manufacturing process is a simple single-stage affair in which the toolmaker merely hits a lump of flint with a stone repeatedly to systematically knock bits off it until the lump has been reduced to a desired shape.

However, more sophisticated toolmakers employed a two-stage approach. First they would successively "soften up" small portions of the flint’s surface, so as to then be able to more accurately remove flakes from it, thus creating a much more sophisticated and effective tool with a better and more refined cutting edge.
Quite a bit of evidence is emerging that the group of hominins loosely called “archaic Homo sapiens” was considerably more technologically and socially advanced than we once thought. Whether or not they looked modern, they were beginning to act that way. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Homo erectus Was Lazy??

A short piece in PhysOrg links to an article in PLoS that argues that, when faced with the opportunity to make Acheulean tools out of really good raw materials at a site in what is now Saudi Arabia, the local Homo erectus group took the easy way out and made them out of whatever was lying around.  From the PhysOrg piece: “New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were 'lazy'.”

First off, the first paragraph is nothing short of idiotic. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Homo erectus went extinct because they were lazy. They colonized huge sections of Asia and were integral to the appearance of early modern humans in the area.They might have disappeared from this particular area of Saudi Arabia but that is all.  Also from PhysOrg:
"At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill.

"But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.

"When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artefacts and no quarrying of the stone.

"They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, 'why bother?'".

This is in contrast to the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances.
Maybe this particular population was stressed in some way. Maybe the tools that they made were good enough to get done what they needed. Who knows. It is a huge inference, though, that because they didn't use the raw materials that were better that they were “lazy.”  The last sentence of the abstract reads thus:
The Acheulean hominins at Dawadmi were strong and skilful, with their adaptation evidently successful for some time. However, these biface-makers were also technologically conservative, and used least-effort strategies of resource procurement and tool transport. Ultimately, central Arabia was depopulated, likely in the face of environmental deterioration in the form of increasing aridity.
This sentence alone belies the opening, “lazy” paragraph of the PhysOrg story.  More junk journalism. 

Monday, August 06, 2018

Dear Arizona Residents: Vote For Jonathan Gelbart

AZ Central is reporting that of the five GOP candidates running for superintendent of schools, four of them support the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools.  Ricardo Cano writes:
Jonathan Gelbart was the sole Republican candidate who opposed teaching students creationism and intelligent design. He is joined by Democrats Kathy Hoffman and David Schapira.

The four others — Bob Branch, Frank Riggs, Tracy Livingston and incumbent Diane Douglas — each said they believed students should be taught those topics in some capacity.

The state will likely decide on new science standards later this year.
Republican candidates were asked by moderator and Republic reporter Richard Ruelas whether they were in favor of teaching accepted science, including climate change and evolution.

The question morphed into a broader discussion over the teachings of creationism and intelligent design in Arizona public schools.

Gelbart, 29, a former director of charter development for BASIS.ed, touted that he is the only Republican candidate to say that he "absolutely (does) not support" including the teachings of creationism and intelligent design as part of the science standards they are required to learn.

"It's not science," Gelbart said.

Branch, 60, a professor and Maricopa County Parks and Recreation commissioner, is running on a pro-President Trump platform, emphasizing Christian conservative values.

His stance contrasted Gelbart's.

“I believe in intelligent design — I don’t believe it’s mutually exclusive from evolution," Branch said. "I believe that there is a science behind intelligent design, so where Mr. Gelbart said science should be left to science, I believe in the science of intelligent design.”
And therein lies the problem. You don't “believe” in any part of science. I doubt seriously that most of these GOP candidates, if asked what the basic tenets of biological evolution are, would be able to respond coherently.Other candidates speak of teaching "both sides" and "strengths and weaknesses" as though there are two sides.  In 150 years, no one has been able to promote a competing theory to biological evolution. All attempts to do so have failed and detractors are reduced to trying to find holes in the theory.  As I have written before, all candidates for school boards should have to pass a test in basic science literacy.  Rarely do I think that a federal solution is the answer but sometimes I wonder about this.   

Monday, July 30, 2018

Crossway: Bible Reading Habits and Ken Ham's Reaction

Crossway conducted a survey to find out which parts of the Bible Christians read and how often.  The results are not surprising.  Most people, it turns out, read the New Testament and the epistles and Revelation.  Now, having said that, the survey is oddly constructed, with a dichotomy between "hardest to understand" and "read most often."  I know people who don't understand a bit of Revelation, and yet read it in order to try to understand it.  From the story:
Many Bible readers struggle to understand certain books of the Bible (especially the prophets) and turn their attention to easier-to-grasp sections (like the Gospels and the epistles). Though tackling some of the more difficult parts of Scripture can be challenging, we should attempt to spend time in each section, trusting that each part is divinely inspired and plays an important role in the biblical narrative.
Of course, as soon as I read the part about the Gospels being easy to understand, the first passage that came to mind was John 6:57-6:63, which completely vexed the disciples.  Nonetheless, It makes sense that most people gravitate toward the epistles as the expense of, say Deuteronomy and Leviticus, simply because they reflect the teachings of Christ through Paul and comprise the nuts and bolts of Christianity. Contrast this with the narrative of the early Hebrews, who God blessed, in spite of themselves.

Consequently, it is a bit baffling (and telling) that Ken Ham responded to the survey thus:
Crossway survey re Bible reading habits. One result shows people spend much more time reading towards the end of the Bible than at the beginning. illustrates a major problem in the church--many no longer understand the foundations in Genesis
How is it a major problem in the church for people to focus on the Gospels and the epistles?  As Christ points out, He was “The Way, the Truth and the Life.”  He is the focal point of Scripture.  What is the most commonly-cited scripture?  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  All of the Old Testament points toward the New Testament and Christ.  Yes, the Old Testament is important for instruction (often what not to do) and we have it for many reasons, since it is the record of God's relationship to his people.  But Christ is the pinnacle.  For those of us who profess a faith in Christianity, He is why we believe.

Is the Primeval History important?  Of course.  It shows us that God created the heavens and the earth and He, alone, is God.  That is its purpose.   But, despite what Ken Ham says, it is also controversial.  Scholars over the centuries have been perplexed about how to interpret these passages.  It is hard to reconcile the simple words of Genesis with the fact that everywhere you turn, you are confronted with evidence of an incredibly old earth and not a shred of evidence for a world-wide flood.  How can they not be controversial.

Also, the Old Testament is clearly written for a select people.  When Christ came, he preached first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.  We have been included in His people.  That is the gift of the New Testament.  That is why it is so important. 

There are quite a few other aspects covered in the survey, including daily time reading habits and other demographic data.  Read the whole thing. 





Thursday, July 12, 2018

New Chinese Material Pushes the Exit From Africa to 2.1 mya

Nature is reporting research on new Chinese material that strongly suggests that the Georgian site of Dmanisi is not the earliest location to which migration out of Africa went.  Here is the abstract:
Considerable attention has been paid to dating the earliest appearance of hominins outside Africa. The earliest skeletal and artefactual evidence for the genus Homo in Asia currently comes from Dmanisi, Georgia, and is dated to approximately 1.77–1.85 million years ago (Ma)1. Two incisors that may belong to Homo erectus come from Yuanmou, south China, and are dated to 1.7 Ma2; the next-oldest evidence is an H. erectus cranium from Lantian (Gongwangling)—which has recently been dated to 1.63 Ma3—and the earliest hominin fossils from the Sangiran dome in Java, which are dated to about 1.5–1.6 Ma4. Artefacts from Majuangou III5 and Shangshazui6 in the Nihewan basin, north China, have also been dated to 1.6–1.7 Ma. Here we report an Early Pleistocene and largely continuous artefact sequence from Shangchen, which is a newly discovered Palaeolithic locality of the southern Chinese Loess Plateau, near Gongwangling in Lantian county. The site contains 17 artefact layers that extend from palaeosol S15—dated to approximately 1.26 Ma—to loess L28, which we date to about 2.12 Ma. This discovery implies that hominins left Africa earlier than indicated by the evidence from Dmanisi.
For the new site sequence data, we don't have any hominin remains so we don't know exactly what these folks looked like but the tools are very primitive.  A section from a companion piece reads thus:
The identity of their makers is, for now, unclear: no hominin bones have been recovered at Shangchen. “We would all love to find a hominin — preferably one with a tool in its hand,” says Dennell. Homo erectus is one possibility, because some of the earliest members of this species were found at Dmanisi. But Dennell thinks that the Shangchen toolmakers belonged to an earlier species in the genus Homo.

Petraglia and Rezek both say that the age of the tools — not to mention the possibility that hominins arrived in China even earlier than the 2.12-million-year mark — suggests that the toolmaker was a species such as Homo habilis. This relatively small-brained hominin is thought to have been confined to Africa between around 2.4 million to 1.4 million years ago.

Jungers holds open the possibility that the Shangchen toolmaker was a species of Australopithecus, a group of more ape-like hominins to which the iconic fossil Lucy belongs. So far, all Australopithecus fossils have been discovered in Africa.
Before his death, Grover Krantz argued for the presence of Australopithecus in East Asia but could never get anyone to come on board with him. Everyone was pretty content to label what was coming out of the ground as Homo erectus.I think it would be a stretch if the hominins from Shangchen were australopithecines since we don't see any advanced species of Australopithecus in East or North Africa between 2 and 2.5 mya.  In fact, Au. boisei drops out around 2.1, likely out-competed by early Homo.

Nonetheless, something was making stone tools in China at 2.1 mya and that is “Yuuuuge” news. 

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Texas...Again

Texas has, once again, waded into the waters of the evolution/creation controversy.  The Texas Tribune reports that wording that is claimed to open the door to creationism has been provisionally left in the most recent guidelines for teaching science in the public schools.  Aliyya Swaby writes:
The process began in July, when the board convened a teacher committee that recommended the deletion of several high school science standards, including four controversial biology standards they said would be too complex for students to understand. In their recommendation for deleting a clause requiring students examine explanations on the "sudden appearance" of organism groups in the fossil record, they included the note, "Not enough time for students to master concept. Cognitively inappropriate for 9th grade students."

Republican board member Barbara Cargill led the charge Wednesday to keep three of those four standards in some form — arguing that they would actually help students better understand the science and keep teachers away from creationist ideas.
As I wrote a bit back, Barbara Cargill has, in recent years, been less vocal about her support for creationism and intelligent design, but has always supported the range of Wedge Strategy ideas promoted by the Intelligent Design movement, including “teach the controversy,” “teach the full range of scientific views,” and teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.    

The board members have also bought into the idea that fossil forms appear in the geological  record fully-formed, a notion completely debunked by Don Prothero

Friday, July 06, 2018

Todd Friel: The Holy Spirit Taught Them That the Earth Was Young

This is heresy.  Straight up.

Sorry for the light posting. I have been extremely busy and have not had time to devote to it.  I am taking a break from my hectic schedule to post on an AiG article that is one of the most offensive things i have read in some time.  The title of the post is How Do I Stay Humble When I Know I’m Right? and is written by Todd Friel, who has no biography on the web site, so we have absolutely no idea what his qualifications are. He also fronts a web site called Wretched, which, likewise, gives us no information than we already had.  So, why has this post made me a hateful person?  Here's why.

Friel recounts the story of Bob, who gets stuck in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson and has to be rescued.  Apparently, Bob is not sufficiently thankful to God for his good fortune and so Todd has this to say:
You would think Bob is either very forgetful or very arrogant. Bob was not the author of his good fortune; he was merely the recipient. The Apostle Paul would rightly ask him, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (See 1 Corinthians 4:7.)

Do you know why godly creation scientists believe God created the world in six 24-hour days?

They are brilliant.
They have PhDs.
They understand the plain meaning of Genesis 1 and 2.

While all three of those options may be true, the real reason they know the earth is young is that the Holy Spirit taught them the truth.
“The Holy Spirit taught them the truth.”  That has to be one of the most arrogant, myopic idiotic things I have yet read from Answers in Genesis and given the quality of the material on the site, that is saying a lot.  “The Holy Spirit taught them the truth.”  

In the last few years, Answers in Genesis has become much more strident in its position that if you don't accept a six-day creation, you are not a Christian.  This is one more piece that promotes this nonsense.  The implication is that if I think the earth is not six thousand years old, I don't have the Holy Spirit.  Here is a short, non-exhaustive list of other people who, apparently, don't/didn't have the Holy Spirit:
  • Billy Graham
  • Francis Collins
  • Hugh Ross
  • Pat Robertson
  • Davis Young
  • Carol Hill
  • N.T. Wright
  • J.I Packer
  • John Polkinghorne
  • B.B. Warfield
  • William Jennings Bryan
  • Tim Keller 
  • John Stott
That list is not even remotely exhaustive.  You might recognize some of the people on that list as being some of the most influential Christian thinkers and evangelists that the world has ever seen, and all of whom can think circles around Todd Friel.

Joel Edmund Anderson has written about the heretical notions in Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.  Here is yet another example.  Friel claims that the Holy Spirit has given special knowledge just to young earth creationists that no one else has. 

The people in the list above have/had the Holy Spirit and it guided them to lives of evangelism, helping people come to Christ and living inspired Christian lives. Why didn't the Holy Spirit correct their thinking about the age of the earth?

Now I am quite convinced that the Holy Spirit does guide us and nudge us in certain directions, such as “Maybe you should join the mission field,” or “Go reach out to that person over there.” On the other hand, the Holy Spirit telling someone that the earth is young is like telling someone that, when Jesus wasn't preaching the gospel, he was strangling cats. There is no biblical evidence that He did any such thing, just as there is no biblical evidence that the earth is “young.”  While it is true that some interpret the Primeval History as being literal, many, many people of great faith have wrestled for thousands of years to understand exactly what those scriptures mean and I am convinced that God honors those who earnestly struggle with those passages but have faith in Him and his son. 

I don't know who taught those brilliant people that the earth was young but I don't think it was the Holy Spirit, and Todd Friel could use a dose of humility. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Arizona: More Whack-a-Mole

Now, Arizona educators are considering watering down the definition of evolution in the state curriculum guidelines.  AP has the story:
The Arizona Department of Education is considering changes to school science standards, including instances when it may remove or alter references to evolution. The state’s superintendent of public instruction said the proposed changes reflect that parts of evolution are only theory.

The department has replaced some references to evolution with words like “biological diversity” or added qualifiers to the word, according to a draft of the proposed changes.

The standards focus on core science and engineering ideas that teachers then use to form curriculum for public school districts and charter schools, according to the department.
“Biological diversity” is not evolution. It is biological diversity. Evolution is descent with modification from a common ancestor. By redefining evolution this way the good folks at the Arizona Department of Education demonstrate that they have no idea what biological evolution actually is.  The article continues:
“What we know is true and what we believe might be true but is not proven and that’s the reality,” Douglas said. “Evolution has been an ongoing debate for almost 100 years now. There is science to back up parts of it, but not all of it.”
Which parts, exactly? If you cannot even define it correctly, why should we accept that you know which parts cannot be backed up?  More bureaucrats sticking their noses in where they don't belong.  Hopefully this will not come to pass. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fred Clark on the Cruelty of Young Earth Creationism

Ken Ham is fond of saying that the reason that many young people are falling away from the faith is because they have been indoctrinated into "billions of years" thinking.  They are quite clear about how important this line of thought is:
What is at stake here is the authority of Scripture, the character of God, the doctrine of death, and the very foundation of the gospel. If the early chapters of Genesis are not true literal history, then faith in the rest of the Bible is undermined, including its teaching about salvation and morality.
The problem is that when many young people are launched into the real world, they come face to face with a mountainous amount of counter-evidence that leads to a real crisis in faith. Fred Clark puts it thus:
Young-earth creationism is a cruelly efficient machine for manufacturing spiritual crisis. It has created more atheists than all of Richard Dawkins’ books put together. It exchanges the truth of God for a lie — a lie that’s spectacularly indefensible because none of the people caught up in that lie lives on a young Earth. They live, instead, on this one — this ancient Earth that confronts its inhabitants with its vast and incomprehensible oldness at every turn.

The “evangelical worldview” Nelle Smith describes binds that unsustainable lie to everything else that evangelical Christians believe: the existence of a benevolent God, the belief that life has meaning, the love of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. All of this is bound together with the lie in a constantly repeated and reinforced if/then construction. If the Earth is older than 10,000 years, then God does not love you. If the Earth is older than 10,000 years, then all meaning is illusion. If the Earth is older than 10,000 years, then Christ is not risen and your faith is also vain and you are of all people most to be pitied
I have seen this play out in families where children encountered the evidence for evolution and an old earth and it destroyed their faith. In one instance, a teenager who, after years of being in a YEC homeschool environment and subsequently walking away from her faith, said to their parents: “I wish you had told me more about evolution.”

If we tell our children about the love of God, the salvation through Jesus, the need to live out a Godly life, and that the central tenets of the faith can be found in the early creeds, that should be enough.  We should let them have the freedom to work out the importance of the early chapters of Genesis, to discover whether or not it is important to believe that the flood was world-wide or localized (or if it happened at all).  These questions are not an indictment of the early chapters of Genesis, simply a recognition that they were written to a different people with different customs in a time thousands of years ago.

As many people have noted: the bible was written for us but it was not written to us.  It was written to people who had no understanding of geological, cosmological or biological scientific principles because those things were unimportant to their faith and hadn't been discovered yet.  If they weren't important to the faith of those people, why should they be important to ours?

Ken Ham and other young earth creationists of his mindset are setting people up for an incredible let-down.  By linking the belief in a young earth to the rest of the faith, they are not just promoting a stark dichotomy but putting themselves into a corner by requiring that the science support their position.  This is what Joel Edmund Anderson picked up on: science then becomes the ultimate arbiter of the faith.  If Ham is going to tell people that the young earth position is integral to their faith, then the earth better dang well be 6,000 years old.

The problem is that it is not.  Hugh Ross, no evolutionist, once wrote that, after careful scrutiny, he discovered that there is not a single defensible argument for a young earth.  Worse, over 95% of practicing scientists will tell you the same thing.  Of the remaining five percent, many, like David Menton, writing for AiG, often write in fields of which they know nothing.

In the Menton post linked above, I eventually argued that people like David Menton  (and by extension, Ken Ham) were an asset to the kingdom.  Now I am not so sure.  How can those who place such a weight and potential stumbling block on Christians be an asset to anyone?   Further, how is such a position not heresy?  It links the core tenets of the faith to a position that has a time depth of a little over a hundred years.

The young earth creationism taught by most home schoool curricula is straight out of the works of Henry Morris, which was simply repackaged George McCready Price, in turn based on the “visions” and “special knowledge” of  Seventh-Day Adventist prophetess Ellen G. White. In other words, none of it is actually in the Bible.  It is often wild extrapolations on what, according to them, must be true.The rest is simply attacks on mainstream science. 

Answers in Genesis is a very popular site in Christian circles and, while it is certainly true that there are many Christians out there who are perfectly willing to accept that there are different ways to interpret the Primeval History that don't have salvation implications, Ken Ham's voice is very loud and he is doing more harm than good.  

Thursday, May 17, 2018

World Religion News: Human Evolution Exhibit Censored to Avoid Offending Ultra-Orthodox Jews

It seems that even Judaism has a wing that rejects evolution.  Gee, who knew.  World Religion News has the story:
Authorities of Jerusalem's Natural History Museum frequently covers their human evolution exhibit under a sheet to keep the ultra-Orthodox visitors from being offended . The display title written in Hebrew reads, “The beginning of human evolution and culture.” The exhibit provides in detail the gradual and slow transformation from ape to modern homo sapien. It has a number of skulls, ancient hunting tools, and models along with written explanations. The matter came under scrutiny when a member of the museum staff asked a visitor to leave when she asked the authorities why they censor the display. Chaya David, the visitor in question, said she was shocked and saddened by the incident, terming it not only unwarranted but also not legal.
I sure hope it doesn't read “Homo sapien.” That binomial is never singular. Very early in my graduate career, I put that in a paper and my advisor fried me alive. Beyond that, though, if the story is accurate, why not inform the museum visitor why the display had been covered?  The story also notes:
Ultra-Orthodox Jews do not regard the scientific evolutionary theory as valid. They accept the Biblical version as the valid one. The Bible states humans were created differently from other animals. The traditional reading of the Holy Bible states that the world came into existence 5,778 years back.
Rabbit Hole: One unusual point about this story: 5778 years back puts creation at 3670 B.C. This is some 334 years after the figure that was concocted by Bishop Ussher. It is further important to note that Ussher's date was not the only one around. Everybody from Bede to Newton had their own estimates, all being within about 300 years of each other. Given that they were all working from the same source, what accounts for the discrepancy? Answers in Genesis is happy to provide the answer:
The testimony of so many ancient writers seems to confirm the antiquity (extreme age) of the use of the Julian year—that is, three hundred and sixty-five days with the addition of one extra day every four years. Hence, Ussher had very good reasons for selecting the length of the year that he did. In fact, modern scholarship recognizes this. In 1940 W. G. Waddell translated the works of Manetho, an Egyptian priest of the third century BC, and has the following translation for a portion of the work: “Saites added 12 hours to the month, to make its length 30 days; he added 6 days to the year, which thus comprised of 365 days.”
Only 4.5 billion years off.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

How Intelligent Was Homo naledi?

Discover Magazine (and other outlets) are running a story which questions how important cranial size is to overall intelligence.  The focus of this inquiry is Homo naledi, the small-brained hominin that is now thought to be no more than 200ky old.  Lee Berger, who was on the team that discovered Homo naledi has always argued that, because of the comparative difficulty of navigating the cave, that she was placed in the Rising Star Chamber intentionally.  At issue is the brain size:
When it comes to brain volume, previous research established that Homo naledi‘s was 465-560 milliliters. (In today’s study, the authors acknowledge those earlier numbers, based on virtual reconstructions, but also perform their own physical reconstructions and measure the volume with a water displacement method, arriving at a similar range of 460-555 mL.)
This is very small. As the authors note, contemporary hominins possessed brains well over 1000 cc at this point. It was the complexity of H. naledi's brain that surprised people:
Homo naledi‘s inferior frontal and lateral orbital gyri were organized notably more like that of other members of the genus Homo than that of australopiths. These are parts of the brain associated with complex behaviors, such as communication, planning and tool-making, that are particularly important in our lineage.

Finding Homo naledi‘s brain was structurally similar to that of larger-brained members of the genus tells us two important things. First, it means Homo naledi itself was likely capable of more complex behavior than australopiths with a similar brain volume but different brain structure. Second, it torpedoes the old notion that Homo brains grew steadily in size and complexity until reaching the evolutionary pinnacle that is Homo sapiens (/sarcasm, just a touch).
As we discover that early Homo was behaviorally more complex than we thought, it also forces us to rethink what went on later in hominin evolution and re-evaluate evidence of complexity in H. erectus and archaic H. sapiens
 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Truth is Stranger than Fiction: Galapagos Creationism Center to be Built

The Adventist News Network is reporting that a new creationism center will be built on the Galapagos Islands:
A large incentive project for scientific research will soon become a reality in the Galapagos Archipelago, located 1,200 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador. Construction on the Creationist Center, maintained by the Adventist Church through its institutions, will begin in August. Geovanny Izquierdo, president of the Church in Ecuador, confirmed the date for construction this week. The 741 square meter piece of land is located in the center of Santa Cruz, the most populated island in the archipelago. The building will include, initially, the Creationist Center, some administrative rooms for the Loma Linda Adventist College and new headquarters for the Central Adventist Church.
There is something deeply ironic about this. Of course, it wasn't just the Galapagos Islands that allowed Darwin to develop the theory of Natural Selection. His travels to Patagonia also paved the way for it. Nonetheless, this is almost like the U.S. presence in Guantanamo Bay or an embassy on foreign soil.  They will certainly be viewed as a curiosity by the incoming scientists.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

What in the Hay-ull is Wrong with These People??

Yankees pitcher German was just yanked in the top of the seventh while throwing a no-hitter.  I hate these managers!!!!  In 1972, Preston Gomez yanked a pitcher throwing a no-hitter and got no end of crap from the baseball writers.  But NO, we have to bow to the god of the almighty pitch count!!  The pitch count is All, save the Pitch count!!!  Does it not occur to these knuckleheads that the fans might want to see a no-hitter?  Does it not occur to these knuckleheads that the pitcher might want the opportunity to throw one?  a no-hitter is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event for a pitcher.  To rob him of this opportunity is unconscionable. 


YYYYAAAARRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

Update:  I would hate be someone that roots against the Yankees.  After German got removed, Betances gave up three runs on three hits and then holder gave up a run, leaving the Yankees in a 4-0 hole going into the bottom of the eighth.  What did they do?  They scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth and won it in the bottom of the ninth on a three-run walk-off homerun.  They deserved to lose but won, no thanks to Aaron Boone. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New Laetoli Footprints Demonstrate Full Bipedality

A story running in Newsweek and the Washington Post (and other outlets, presumably), details research into the newly discovered fossil footprints at Laetoli dated to 3.6 mya that clearly show a modern human gait.
Two sites in Laetoli, Tanzania, feature footprints of human ancestors who lived about 3.6 million years ago. They were members of the genus Australopithecus. That's the genus of “Lucy,” the 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor whose fossilized bones were discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.

David Raichlen, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Arizona, has studied the Laetoli footprints and compared them to footprints made by human volunteers in laboratory settings. He examined footprints of individuals walking normally and also those walking with bent knees and bent hips. (Scientists who study locomotion use the acronym BKBH). The Laetoli footprints more closely match modern human footprints.

“Upright, humanlike bipedal walking goes back 4 to 5 million years,” Raichlen told The Washington Post in advance of a symposium on the evolution of human locomotion, which took place Sunday at the Experimental Biology 2018 conference in San Diego.
This dovetails with the recent findings that Ardipithecus, a hominin dated to around 4.4 mya, likely could travel equally well on the ground or in the trees.  Oddly, the WaPo article doesn't mention this.  

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Slander of “Darwinism”

Kenneth Miller has written yet another extraordinary essay, this one on the nature of the term “Darwinism” and how it is pejoratively used by those insistent on trashing evolutionary theory.  He writes:
He could have just said he didn’t believe in evolution, or that evolution had flaws. Or, he could have said that a book with a whole unit on evolution was just too much. But William Buckingham, of the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania, didn’t use the “E” word when he explained his objections to the biology textbook selected by the science teachers at Dover High School. Instead, he invoked a term that didn’t even appear in that textbook. Prentice Hall’s Biology: The Living Science, he claimed, “was laced with Darwinism from beginning to end.” Surely, he must have thought, “Darwinism” was a disqualifying slander that everyone could understand.
Buckingham, who was singled out for special re-probation by Judge Jones at the end of the trial, was at once ignorant and pejorative.  He was ignorant in that Darwin was not the only one to develop the idea of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace being the other one. He meant to be pejorative (in the same way that all of the Discovery Institute writers intend) because he knew that the term “Darwinism” carries with it the baggage of animus and atheism.As Miller notes, when an entire branch of science is referred to by its founder's name, then it takes on the air of an ideology, rather than a legitimate field of study.  The ideology can then be characterized as agenda-driven, attempting to tear out the heart of morality and decency.  None of this, of course, is true but the perception is rampant.  Miller also points out something of which I hadn't thought:
The overuse of Darwin’s own name facilitates another line of attack, by pretending that the field relies entirely on Darwin’s own work, fashioned in an age before the modern sciences of genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology emerged to confirm and expand his ideas. This allows the pretense that evolution is a stolid, unchanging field, with few new ideas that might refresh its 19th century heritage. Any scientist would scoff at this, of course, knowing the vigor that new discoveries constantly infuse into evolutionary biology. But to laypeople, unfamiliar with the rapid pace of scientific discovery, this can be a persuasive argument.
This would be no different from referring to modern physics as “Newtonism”  despite the vast advances that have been made since Newton's time.  Miller laments that these perceptions are hard to fight against because they appeal to emotions rather than empirical thought. Further, there are those of the atheist perspective who argue that, as humans, we are no better or special than any other species on the planet.   For this, though, he has an answer:
We are the children of evolution in every sense, part of Darwin’s fabled “tangled bank.” We must never forget that. But we must also remember that we are the only creatures to emerge from that thicket and make sense of it all. “Darwinism” does not diminish us. Rather, it puts the human experiment into a truly scientific perspective. We are not just hairless bipedal primates. We are creatures capable of the fugues of Bach, the verses of Yeats, the stories of Twain, the creations of Dalí and, for that matter, the mathematics of Gödel, Ramanujan and Turing.

In contemplating the lessons of evolution for our species and our culture, this is how we should overcome the mindless use of “Darwinism” as a slur. Some may feel demeaned by our evolutionary heritage, but I would argue that the more appropriate emotions are joy and delight. Joy that we are approaching a genuine understanding of the world in which we live, and delight at being the very first stirrings of true consciousness in the vastness of the cosmos. Far from diminishing us, knowing the details of Adam’s journey ennobles each of us as a carrier of something truly precious—the genetic, biological, and cultural heritage of life itself. Evolution describes not the death of Adam, but his triumph. That is the great truth of our story.
Masterful.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Kent Hovind is Baaaacccckkkkkk!

Hemant Mehta writes for Patheos that Kent Hovind is back in the news.  You kind of have to read through the vitriol a bit:
In 2009, the IRS took control of Dinosaur Adventure Land, Kent Hovind‘s Creationist theme park in Pensacola, Florida, so that they could sell it off and recover the money Hovind owed for committing tax fraud. (It was a sad day for, like, three people.) Hovind was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was eventually released in 2015.
While there were attempts by Hovind’s son to buy back the property, that never worked out and the park has officially been closed since 2009.
You know what that means.
Hoving [sic] has built another Dinosaur Adventure Land! This one is in Repton, Alabama, and the grand opening takes place this Saturday.
That is not really what got Mehta's attention, however. It was this:

In the bottom left hand corner  is an image of Jesus holding a velociraptor as if it were a cute, cuddly kitten.  In the video, he speaks of evolution as being dumb and evil and “if you fell for that lie, we are here to show you the truth.”  The accompanying video is difficult to watch, as it largely contains Hovind's peculiar interpretation of  the book of Revelation, which is even murky to scholars who have been studying it for centuries.  That doesn't stop Hovind. 

I was never sympathetic to the case that got him thrown in gaol for a few years, but it is clearly evident that prison has not dulled his enthusiasm or oddness. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ardipithecus May Not Have Been Entirely a Facultative Biped After All

In a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, several researchers have concluded, using 3D morphometric analysis have discovered that Ardipithecus ramidus, while still having facultative (didn't have to but could) bipedalism, when it did walk, its bipedal gait was nearly human.  From the abstract:
We show that hamstring-powered hip extension during habitual walking and climbing in living apes and humans is strongly predicted, and likely constrained, by the relative length and orientation of the ischium. Ape pelves permit greater extensor moments at the hip, enhancing climbing capability, but limit their range of hip extension, resulting in a crouched gait. Human pelves reduce hip extensor moments but permit a greater degree of hip extension, which greatly improves walking economy (i.e., distance traveled/energy consumed). Applying these results to fossil pelves suggests that early hominins differed from both humans and extant apes in having an economical walking gait without sacrificing climbing capability. Ardipithecus was capable of nearly human-like hip extension during bipedal walking, but retained the capacity for powerful, ape-like hip extension during vertical climbing. Hip extension capability was essentially human-like in Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus africanus, suggesting an economical walking gait but reduced mechanical advantage for powered hip extension during climbing.
This positions Ardipithecus as the classic intermediate in terms of bipedal locomotion.Although there are many traits in Australopithecus afarensis that are still transitional in terms of the rib cage, dentition and aspects of the hip, it is clear that the major adaptations for bipedalism were in place nearly a million years earlier.  This also suggests that it is not out of the realm of possibility that the fossil footprints in Crete really do reflect a bipedal hominin.  At the risk of positing heresy, the fact remains that we really don't know exactly where hominins first appeared.  This study also reinforced the distinct separation between apes and humans in terms of iliac shape, and that this split must have taken place even further back in time that we have supposed.

The Independent has a news story on this here.  One of the authors, Herman Pontzer remarks:
“It kicks us out of this old paradigm of thinking about human evolution,”...“In that old picture that is everywhere where you have the evolution of man going from crouching thing to upright thing to a human – as much as we have known that is not right, I still think people have it in their heads.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

New Homo sapiens Fossil Found in Arabia

A new fossil finger has been unearthed as Arabia that purports to be 87 ky old.  UPI is on it.
The fossil was found buried beneath the sands of the Nefud Desert, which today stretches across the Northern Arabia Peninsula. The site where the fossil was found was once home to a freshwater lake.
Around the time humans showed up, a climatic shift brought monsoons to the region, spawning grasslands. Animal fossils suggest antelope grazed the land and hippos swam in the ancient lake.
Researchers measured ratios of radioactive elements in the finger bone and compared the ratios to those found in animal fossils with confirmed dates. The analysis confirmed the age of the human fossil, the oldest found in Arabia.
"This discovery for the first time conclusively shows that early members of our species colonized an expansive region of southwest Asia and were not just restricted to the Levant," Huw Groucutt, a researcher with the University of Oxford and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said in a news release.
How do we know it was from Homo sapiens?
Among these finds was a well preserved and small fossil, just 3.2 cm long, which was immediately recognized as a human finger bone. The bone was scanned in three dimensions and its shape compared to various other finger bones, both of recent Homo sapiens individuals and bones from other species of primates and other forms of early humans, such as Neanderthals. The results conclusively showed that the finger bone, the first ancient human fossil found in Arabia, belonged to our own species.
I do not have access to this article as neither the lab nor UT has a subscription to Nature: Ecology & Evolution. Aside: Given our focus on materials science and computing, I kind of get why ORNL does not have a subscription.  UT, not so much.  This journal should be in their wheelhouse.  According to the abstract, the find is securely dated and:
The palaeoenvironmental context of Al Wusta demonstrates that H. sapiens using Middle Palaeolithic stone tools dispersed into Arabia during a phase of increased precipitation driven by orbital forcing, in association with a primarily African fauna.
Maddenly, there is no information in the abstract about the morphology of the find, especially given that Neandertal and early anatomically modern phalanges are remarkably similar. I am sure they were able to differentiate it, but I would sure like to know how.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Babylon Bee: Ken Ham Arrested For Vandalizing Grand Canyon Signs To Read ‘JUST 4400 YEARS OLD’

I love the Babylon Bee.  They will skewer anything.  This post announces that Ken Ham was caught vandalizing signs in the Grand Canyon:
Dozens of informational signs throughout the park tell visitors that the Colorado River carved the canyon over the past six million years—but Ham allegedly painted over these signs and wrote “CANYON JUST 4400 YEARS OLD—WAKE UP!” national park rangers said at a press conference.

“We found Ham hiding behind a large rock formation with several cans of spray paint and a Sharpie after seeing his Facebook posts and pinging his phone to determine his exact location,” one ranger said. “All evidence points to this being a one-man operation. Pretty much all of our visitor signs were ‘corrected’ by Ham—even the big one at the main entrance.”
If you hadn't figured out that this was satire, the last sentence in the article should have been a big clue:
At publishing time, Ham had miraculously escaped captivity and was seen painting over signs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
The really funny thing about this post by the Bee is that it elicited a correction by the site “Business 2 Community,” which ran this:
Ken Ham, a spokesman for creationist, being arrested for vandalizing the Grand Canyon National Park signs to read “Just 4,400 Years Old” is satirical news. There is no truth to a report that an Australian Christian fundamentalist and young Earth creationist living in the United States found himself in trouble after he painted over signs at the country’s popular national park.

In case you don’t know, Ham is the president of Answers in Genesis, a Creationist apologetics organization that operates the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.
As of now, the site that Ham runs, Answers in Genesis, has yet to respond to the article.In fact, as nearly as I can tell, they have not acknowledged the existence of the Babylon Bee, whatsoever. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Ken Ham: ‘If Christians don’t believe in a literal Genesis, they have no foundation for their doctrine’

Ken Ham gave a lengthy interview in The Christian Chronicle, conducted by Bobby Ross, Jr., in which he outlined why he believes in a young earth and a literal reading of Genesis.  Is he a “young earth creationist?”:
When people say, “Are you a young Earth creationist?” I want people to also understand that, you know, the reason we believe what we do is not because we’re young Earth creationists. It’s because we’re biblical creationists. As a consequence of taking the Bible as written, we believe in a young Earth. But we’re not young Earth first.

In other words, young Earth is not the issue. It’s just a consequence of the way we take Scripture. … We’re biblical creationists; we’re all about the Bible; we’re all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This answer would be perhaps a tad more believable if a large chunk of the AiG website weren't geared toward dismantling old-earth and evolution arguments. The front page of the site contained, just a minute ago, no fewer than three articles on how to demonstrate young earth creationism.

Ham also prefers the term “biblical creationism” to ”young earth creationism,” suggesting that there is only one way to look at how God created the universe and only one way to interpret the Genesis creation stories (there are two). In their writings about this, there is a continual tendency to conflate the notions of a "biblical" creationism with a literal reading of the scripture.  They are not the same thing.

Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis has a post on what church thinkers through the ages thought about the creation days and the writer of the post, James Mook, manages to contradict himself within the space of two paragraphs.  First he writes:
In its first 16 centuries the church held to a young earth. Earth was several thousand years old, was created quickly in six 24-hour days, and was later submerged under a worldwide flood.
One paragraph later, we get this:
The Church Fathers (AD 100–600) were theologians after the apostles. Based on Scripture, they opposed naturalistic theories of origins. Some, including Clement of Alexandria (c. 152–217), Origen (c. 185–254), and Augustine (c. 354–430), interpreted Genesis 1 allegorically. To them, the six days were a symbolic presentation of God’s creation in one instant.
If they were a symbolic presentation of God's creation in one instant, then they clearly did not think that the creation played out over six 24-hour days. It is, further, unfair to argue that the church fathers were young earth creationists because they thought the earth was young.  Everybody at the time thought the earth was young. There was no evidence to the contrary.  Now there is, plenty of it.

When asked about whether or not the age of creation is a salvation issue, he appears to say one thing but mean another. 
Nowhere in the Bible does it connect salvation to the age of the Earth. Right? If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. Romans 10:9. In other words, salvation is conditioned on faith in Christ. Faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone.

And so, then people say to me, “So, you can believe in millions of years and still be a Christian?” Well, I know many Christians who believe in millions of years. It’s not a salvation issue.

And then if people say to me, “So, it doesn’t matter?” I would say, “Yes, it does matter.” And the reason I say “Yes, it does matter” is because, ultimately, it’s an authority issue. In other words, where you get the millions of years from, you don’t get that in Scripture.

Not only that, but if you’re going to believe in millions of years, the idea of millions of years really came out of atheistic and deistic naturalism of the 1700s and 1800s, from people who wanted to explain the fossil record and natural processes without God. So, the fossil record was supposedly laid down before man. Now, the fossil record is a record of death. Now in the fossil record, there’s lots of examples of diseases and bones like of dinosaurs, cancer, arthritis, other diseases.
He is absolutely correct that nowhere in the bible is the age of the earth connected with salvation. Score one for Ham. The problems begin with what he says afterwards.  What he continues with reveals a very false understanding of the history of science and the denigration of the work of some very devout men of God.

He claims that you don't get “millions of years” from scripture.  The problem is that you don't necessarily get six consecutive 24-hour days from scripture, either.  That idea was added by Wycliffe, in the late 1300s.  As pointed out above and by many different theologians, many of the early church fathers did not interpret the creation days literally.  These are people that lived within the first three centuries after Christ, who were integral in spreading the gospel.  And, somehow, I am supposed to believe that they are wrong and Ken Ham is right?  This is not an authority issue at all.  This is an issue of interpretation.

Additionally, with his “millions of years” quote, Ham is making a point of demonizing the people that earnestly tried to understand how the world worked and what clues it yielded about how it was created and when.  Many of the researchers who worked out the geological layers in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds such as Georges Cuvier, Adam Sedgwick and William Buckland were strong Bible-believing Christians who wrestled with the data that they uncovered, in an effort to understand how it fit with God's word.  Cuvier, who developed the idea of catastrophism, concluded that there had been many world-wide floods over a long period of time, of which Noah's flood was the last.  In his farewell speech to the Geological Society of Britain, Sedgwick, who was ordained Anglican minister and thorough evangelical said this about the great flood:
Bearing upon this difficult question, there is, I think, one great negative conclusion now incontestably established -- that the vast masses of diluvial gravel, scattered almost over the surface of the earth, do not belong to one violent and transitory period. It was indeed a most unwarranted conclusion, when we assumed the contemporaneity of all the superficial gravel on the earth. We saw the clearest traces of diluvial action, and we had, in our sacred histories, the record of a general deluge. On this double testimony it was, that we gave a unity to a vast succession of phenomena, not one of which we perfectly comprehended, and under the name diluvium, classed them all together.

To seek the light of physical truth by reasoning of this kind, is, in the language of Bacon, to seek the living among the dead, and will ever end in erroneous induction. Our errors were, however, natural, and of the same kind which lead many excellent observers of a former century to refer all the secondary formations of geology to the Noachian deluge. Having been myself a believer, and, to the best of my power, a propagator of what I now regard as a philosophic heresy, and having more than once been quoted for opinions I do not now maintain, I think it right, as one of my last acts before I quit this Chair, thus publicly to read my recantation.
Since Sedgwick's time, the evidence for a world-wide flood has not gotten any better. In fact, as Carol Hill, another Christian geologist points out, there is no evidence for it, whatsoever. For Ham to denigrate the work of these scientific giants as being the products of atheistic and deistic naturalism is not just incorrect, it is insulting.

It also reveals that he knows very little about the history of geology.  Further, he knew very little about the lives of the people he was denigrating.  Sedgwick remained an evangelical Christian throughout his life, as did Hutton and Cuvier. 

Theologians and scholars have wrestled with the Genesis creation accounts for centuries in an effort to try to understand them and their subtlety and breadth.  Ken Ham reduces them to a flat, bare bones account that holds little more than a sterile textbook.  It is a grand story of God's creation.  Whether it happened in six days or over the course of four billion years is irrelevant.

I would encourage you to read the whole interview, in which Ham pretty much condemns every view of creation that does not comport with his.  This, above all, is what makes Ham controversial.  He is, perhaps, the most divisive person in Christendom. 


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Modern Humans Interbred with Two Groups of Denisovans

There is now more evidence that were were “one big happy family.”  Here is a short recap:
Beginning around 1.8 million years ago, a hominin form called Homo erectus left Africa for points east, eventually settling in Indonesia and China. These early humans were characterized by having heads roughly ¾ the size of modern humans with very large brow ridges and with their widest point just above the ears. They were also the first humans to conquer fire and perfect hunting.
Then, at some point, between 300 and 500 thousand years ago, a population group migrated from North Africa into Europe and, eventually into East Asia. The European branch became the Neandertals, between 200 and 250 thousand years ago, and the East Asian group eventually became the Denisovans. The Denisovans then spread east and south, eventually mixing with other populations, some of which were the precursors of the Melanesians and native Australians. The bulk of the Neandertals hunkered down in Europe and tried to outlast the bitter cold of not one but two glaciations.  Despite this, while often pilloried in cultural literature as being half-witted brutes, Neandertals were a very complex society, with advanced weaponry and hunting behavior, grave goods, habitation structures and who practiced ritual behavior. Some populations of Neandertals eventually  expanded their range into Western Asia and steppic Russia and interbred with the Denisovans.  Unfortunately, as a culture, we know next to nothing about the Denisovans. 
Roughly 100 thousand years after this, there was yet another wave of migration, between 100 and 60 thousand years ago, of early modern humans from North Africa, who moved north and East mixing with both the Neandertals in Europe and, perhaps, Western Asia and the Denisovans in East Asia.
And now we learn that the modern humans arriving from Africa interbred with not one but two groups of Denisovans.  From Gizmodo:
We know so little about the Denisovans that they don’t even have a formal scientific name, though scientists are considering Homo sp. Altai or Homo sapiens ssp. Denisova. Indeed, as these names suggest, Denisovans were a branch of humans, having diverged from Neanderthals some 200,000 years ago. We know this because the Altai fossil yielded a near-complete genome, which scientists have been poring over since it was first sequenced in 2010.

But in addition to the Neanderthal ancestry, genetic anthropologists also learned that Denisovan DNA lives on in modern humans, especially among Oceanians and East and South Asians. This means anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens, must’ve interbred with a population of Denisovans. But as new research published today in the science journal Cell points out, our ancestors mated with Denisovans on at least two different historical occasions. So the traces of Denisovan DNA embedded in the genomes of some people living today originated from at least two distinct Denisovan populations.
Given Palaeolithic population densities, this is not surprising.The research seems to indicate that there were early modern human/Denisovan mixes in both Asia and Oceania.  What this means is that, once the Denisovans and Neandertals split, the Denisovans migrated east and northeast (as humans will do) and established population centers in these areas.  When the modern humans came (Huh.  I wonder what is over that hill?  Oh look, humans...sort of.) it made sense to intermingle with them.  We already know that Neandertals and modern humans could, and did, mix.  It is, absent any knowledge to the contrary, reasonable to assume that the Denisovans looked mostly modern human. 

Interestingly, the research seems to indicate that the rate of interbreeding of Neandertals to early moderns was much more limited than with moderns and Denisovans.  This is at variance with other studies (and fossil material) which seems to indicate more sustained contact.  It would be nice if we could find a bit more fossil evidence to get a handle on what at least one Denisovan looked like. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Human Evolution, Walking and FoxP1

The Smithsonian has an interesting article on hox genes and how a discovery may inform about how walking came about:
What does a mouse have in common with a cartilaginous fish known as a little skate?

At first glance, you might think not much. One’s fluffy, with big ears and whiskers; the other breathes with gills and ripples its way around the ocean. One is a lab animal or household pest; the other is most likely to be seen in the wild, or the bottom of a shallow pool at an aquarium. But it turns out these two vertebrates have something crucial in common: the ability to walk. And the reason why could change the way we think about the evolution of walking in land animals—including humans.

A new genetic study from scientists at New York University reveals something surprising: Like mice, little skates possess the genetic blueprint that allows for the right-left alternation pattern of locomotion that four-legged land animals use. Those genes were passed down from a common ancestor that lived 420 million years ago, long before the first vertebrates ever crawled from sea to shore.
According to the story, when the researchers removed the FoxP1 gene (short for Forkhead Box P1) from the skates, they couldn't walk.  Further analysis revealed that the same thing happened to mice.  They simply lost the ability to coordinate their legs.  They couldn't walk.  This research suggests that the gene that allows us to do the simple act of walking originated over 400 million years ago.  Neat stuff.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Daniel Everett: Homo erectus Could Speak and Make Boats

Bentley University Global Studies professor Daniel Everett argues that Homo erectus could speak and had the ability to make ocean-going vessels.  The Guardian has the story:
“Oceans were never a barrier to the travels of Erectus. He travelled all over the world, travelled to the island of Flores, across one of the greatest ocean currents in the world,” said Daniel Everett, professor of global studies at Bentley University, and author of How Language Began. “They sailed to the island of Crete and various other islands. It was intentional: they needed craft and they needed to take groups of twenty or so at least to get to those places.”

While Everett is not the first to raise the controversial possibility that
H. erectus might have fashioned some sort of seagoing vessel, he believes that such capabilities mean that H. erectus must also have had another skill: language.

Erectus needed language when they were sailing to the island of Flores. They couldn’t have simply caught a ride on a floating log because then they would have been washed out to sea when they hit the current,” said Everett, presenting his thesis at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin. “They needed to be able to paddle. And if they paddled they needed to be able to say ‘paddle there’ or ‘don’t paddle.’ You need communication with symbols not just grunts.”
It is pretty clear that Homo erectus hunted, at least in some fashion, could control fire and evidence seems to be accumulating that they hafted spears and, at least late in the range, the European variant set up rudimentary complex settlements.

There is, naturally, skepticism that any hominin form prior to Neandertals were sea-going: 
But others say that there is little evidence that H. erectus was a sophisticated seafarer, let alone had a language. “I don’t accept that, for example, [Homo] erectus must have had boats to get to Flores,” said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. “Tsunamis could have moved early humans on rafts of vegetation.”
Before dismissing that idea out of hand, remember that it is the best one going to explain how the New World Monkeys got where they are, since Africa and South America had parted ways some 180 million years prior to their arrival.

I think there is likely not enough evidence to know one way or another if Homo erectus could sail the high seas and had speech, although the only skeletal evidence that we have for that part of the anatomy suggests not. 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A Mistake Rectified

I have been extraordinarily busy the last few weeks and had hoped to post about this at the time.  Ken Ham was invited to speak at the University of Central Oklahoma.  I have no sympathy for anything that Ken Ham either writes or speaks but what happened next was appalling.  After the invitation, pressure was put on the UCO student association by LBGT groups to disinvite him.  LGBT people make up (charitably) 5% of any given population.  Nonetheless, the UCO group in charge, in what is coming to be the typical, spineless response, rolled over and acceded to their demands.  According to school officials this was done independently of campus administration:
“The university may advise, but does not direct, the activities of [University of Central Oklahoma Student Association],” Johnson wrote. “In fact, in the spirit of the UCO policy on freedom of expression, the university President, Provost and the Vice President of Student Affairs supported and did not deny the proposal to bring Mr. Ham to campus to encourage conversation and debate of diverse perspectives. This was prior to UCOSA’s cancellation of the invitation to Mr. Ham.”
More information came out by way of student association president, Stockton Duvall:
He also said he had been bullied by “a very vocal group on campus that has little tolerance for opposing viewpoints.” Duvall did not specifically cite LGBT activists in his memo.
But according to emails obtained by Todd Starnes of Fox News, LGBT activists played a role.
“We are currently getting bombarded with complaints from our LGBT community about Ken Ham speaking on our campus,” Duvall wrote in an email to Answers in Genesis.
This ought to be simple. If you don't like what the speaker is saying, don't go.  It has been an interesting study in cultural norms to watch the LGBT community go from asking for tolerance to demanding tolerance to, now, demanding endorsement of their views and behaviors.  As far as they are concerned, it is now no longer okay to have a view that doesn't fit with the gay agenda and people who's views don't align shouldn't be allowed to speak. That the student government association obliged them is disgraceful.

But then this happened:
The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) has decided to re-invite Christian creationist Ken Ham to present his views at the institution, after he was dis-invited last week.

The decision has been celebrated by some on the campus as a step forward for 'free speech', according to KOKO News 5. Ham's perhaps surprising re-invitation stands out in UK and US student culture, where the 'no-platforming' of controversial speakers has become more common.
Kudos to pastor Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church for leading the charge to get Ham re-invited. As much as I don't agree with Ham, I have no patience or sympathy with liberal fascism or bullies.