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.