Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Update on the Orangutan story. The story notes that it is the research of Erica Cartmill, not Matt Cartmill. My bad.
Whenever I find people tempted to believe that the fossil record was created by the worldwide flood in Noah's time, I always point them here, Mark Isaak's TalkOrigins page, on what would be involved. It tends to be a jolt of reality. The site also posts rebuttals from creationists and commentaries on the rebuttals. That is more than you would get from ICR.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Playing charades with orangutans. A Foxnews story relates the research of Matt Cartmill on primate communications. The story notes:

"The orangutans made a clear distinction between total misunderstanding, when they tended to give up on the signals they'd used already and use new, but equivalent, ones to get the idea across, and partial misunderstanding, when they tended to repeat the signals that had already partially worked, keeping at it with vigor," Cartmill said. "The response showed that the orangutan had intended a particular result, anticipated getting it and kept trying until it got the result."

[Richard]Byrne noted that "looking at the tapes of the animal's responses, you can easily work out whether the orangutan thinks it has been fully, partially or not understood."

I guess we all need to communicate.
Apparently the Geico ads aren't so far off. "Study: Men With 'Cavemen' Faces Most Attractive to Women." Take that, you metrosexuals!!
I am not a fan of recent earth creationism, but if this story is true, this kind of silencing is worse. It seems as though there is a fine line being drawn in predominantly Islamic countries between Islamic-based creationism and Christian-based creationism. I wonder if Charles Johnson knows about this.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Bigger and better chronometric dating methods on the horizon. Hat tip to the ASA.
The area of the brain responsible for "free won't" has been found. Hat tip to the ASA.
The American Scientific Affiliation has a science blog here.
The Texas Board of Education is leaning away from ID. Among the surprising statements:

Creationism and intelligent design don't belong in our science classes," said Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who described himself as a creationist. "Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community – and intelligent design does not."

ID must be falling on hard times if self-described creationists are rejecting the teaching of it at the public school level.
Another paper about the teeth of Chororapithecus with a bit more detail. My friend Art Durband at Texas Tech says "it must be nice when you can get a Nature paper out of a few teeth." Yes, indeed.
More hominid remains have been found that seem to push the ape-human split back even further. As Yohannes Haile-Selassie says:

The most startling implication of the find, the scientists agree, is that our human progenitors diverged from today's great apes -- including gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees -- several million years earlier than widely accepted research based on molecular genetics had previously asserted.

Another interesting point the article notes:

"We know nothing about how the human line actually emerged from apes," the authors of the paper noted.

But the new fossils, dubbed Chororapithecus abyssinicus by the team of Japanese and Ethiopian paleoanthropologists who found them, place the early ancestors of the modern day gorilla 10 to 10.5 million years in the past, suggesting that the human-ape split occurred before that.

That's one of the things I love about this field. Nothing is ever set in stone.

A friend of mine here at the lab handed me an old opinion piece by William Provine in the September 8, 1985 issue of The Scientist, called "Scientists, Face it! Science and Religion are Incompatible." Amongst other things, he says:

Humans and other animals make choices frequently, but these are determined by the interaction of heredity and environment and are not the result of free will. No inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life.

Aside from the adherence to E.O. Wilson's sociobiology, this seems sad. It is also dogmatic. Atheists seem to get very agitated when they are described as having great faith in their position.

I saw Provine speak at the University of Tennessee some years back, along with Eugenie Scott of the NCSE. She is a self-described agnostic who is sympathetic to the religious position and he was absolutely derisive of her position. His was a Richard Dawkins-style atheism: very arrogant and borderline venomous. He had a brain tumor at the time and seemed to think that he did not have much time left. That was at least ten years ago and he is still kicking.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Independent reports on the success of the new Creation museum in Kentucky. Amid the derision, there are some interesting bits:

But wait at least one second before dismissing Ham as a crackpot. For starters, his is about the slickest museum you are ever likely to visit. It has an interactive cinema that tells the creation story according to Genesis, with wind gusts in the auditorium, vibrating seats and squirts of water, as well as a state-of-the-art planetarium. Its animatronics are worthy of a world-class theme park. In fact, the principle designer also helped build exhibits for Universal Studios in Florida.

Something else impressive: the construction of the museum was funded entirely by private donations; it doesn’t carry one dollar of debt.

Impressive, indeed. There is also an interesting mini biography of Ham.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Only in today's charged climate would this actually make news: "Ohio School to Mark Darwin's Birth, Work."
David Flanigan tackles the notion of evolution in Blog.Critic and largely gets the concept of "theory" wrong. He states:

According to the late Stephen Jay Gould — Harvard professor and leading spokesperson for evolutionary theory right up until the time of his death in 2002 — Evolution, while still a theory, is also a fact. Is it me, or is this approach faintly reminiscent of former President Clinton parsing the meaning of the word "is" in front of a grand jury?

Its nothing of the sort. A theory takes a large number of known facts that are related and tries to explain the relationship between them using scientific mechanisms. Gravitational theory does this, as does evolutionary theory.

He gets other things wrong as well. He states:

Supporters of evolution would argue that we have indeed observed this phenomenon, but there's a bit of bait-and-switch going on here. We can see micro-evolution in action, also known as "adaptation," but macro-evolution, the shifting of one species to a new and entirely different species has never been observed.

This isn't true. There have been numerous examples of observed macroevolution. Here is a good piece from Talkorigins that examines exactly that area.

He makes the statement "Has anyone ever observed the transition of any species into an entirely different and distinct one? The answer to this is a resounding "no."" This is facile, like Ken Ham's "were you there?" question. Has anyone ever watched the continental plates move? Of course not. But we know that they do.

Biological processes take time, just like any other natural processes. In the process of tackling the science of evolution, Mr. Flanigan makes it sound as if he does not understand the science involved.
Eugene Volokh muses about Taner Edis, Islamic science and a response by Ace of Spades.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An editorial in the Boston Globe by Sally Lehrman addresses why understanding the theory of evolution is so important to those following the issue. One of the critical problems in the education field is the lack of knowledge:

As one of their complaints, intelligent design proponents claim that schools should do a better job of explaining evolution. They may very well be right. While people who believe in the scientific method do not accept the antievolution lobby's claim of "irreducible complexity," are they prepared with a coherent response? They might say "survival of the fittest" with conviction but only have a hazy recollection of terms like "descent with modification," "natural selection," and even "mutation."

This problem is a microcosm of the problems of American education in general. Hat tip again to NCSE.
Jesse Smith of The Smart Set visits the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Light on evaluation of the science at the museum but a fascinating read about the political and social aspects of the debate. Hat tip to NCSE.
More commentary on the Homo habilis finds that have rattled the cages of more than a few palaeoanthropologists.
Tim Weaver and Chris Stringer claim that the Neandertal physiognomy owed less to evolutionary adaptations than to chance. Hmmm. Not sure I agree but I will have to read the article first.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Steve Paulson of Salon interviews Taner Edis on why Islamic science is so far behind western science. An interesting bit of similarity:

Q: Is there outright hostility to science in Muslim countries?

A: Not at all. In fact, you'll typically find that, at least superficially, they are very positive about science. Even many devout Muslim apologists say Islam is supposed to be a scientific religion -- a religion that supports science down to the last detail. But this notion of a science-positive Islam is often combined with ignorance about the details of science and an openness to some deeply pseudoscientific ideas.

It is a good interview.
Richard Leakey condemns the Lucy tour.
An online interview with Fred Spoor about the new finds at Koobi Fora. Here is a quote concerning how important the discoveries are:

If fact, Homo habilis and Homo erectus both come in at about the same time, in bout 1.9 million. And at about 1.4, Homo habilis disappears, Homo erectus continues then. But it means that they lived side-by-side for about, almost, half a million years and that must surely mean that they really had separate ecological niches to survive in this way for such long time. And then you can ask the question, is it likely that one was actually the ancestor of the other, because classically, Homo habilis has been portrayed as the ancestor of Homo erectus who either gradually or through a rapid speciation gave rise to erectus.

Time to rewrite that section of the class.
A nice PR piece in the Miami Herald for the work that continues to go on at Olduvai Gorge.
VisionTV, Canada's self-described "multi-faith, multicultural broadcaster" is in hot water for airing a program called Dil Dil Pakistan by a Muslim fundamentalist who is reported to have said that Israel was using the holocaust for ""legitimizing" crimes against humanity." Among the other transgressions:

Dil Dil Pakistan faced further controversy this week for showing a documentary on Muslim creationism credited to Haruan Yahya, the pen name of Turkish author Adnan Oktar.

It seems that we are seeing the rise of the Muslim creationist movement.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A somewhat more sensationalist story from the Times Online.
Well, this will rattle a bunch of cages. According to the story, Homo habilis and Homo erectus may have overlapped by a significant period in time.

"Their co-existence makes it unlikely that Homo erectus evolved from Homo habilis," said co-author Professor Meave Leakey, palaeontologist and co-director of the Koobi Fora Research Project.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Here is the CNN transcript of the Situation Room interview with Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. It is a short part of the program as a whole, so I am reproducing it in full.

CARROLL (voice over): "One Million B.C.," a popular sci-fi fantasy movie of the late 1960s where humans battled dinosaurs on prehistoric Earth. A new museum doesn't believe that story is fiction or fantasy, but a biblical fact, now on display at the newly opened Creation Museum.

KEN HAM, FOUNDER, THE CREATION MUSEUM: We believe that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, and that's what the bible would teach, because all land animals were made on the same day as Adam and Eve were made.

CARROLL: The religious controversy getting traction at a recent Republican debate where three presidential candidates took a stand against evolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm curious, is there anybody on the stage who does not agree -- believe in evolution?

CARROLL: Surely, any number of scientists would debate the theory behind these exhibits, which show dinosaurs living side by side with humans. Here the bible's account is taken word for word, that Earth and all its inhabitants were created in six days. A much different account of what you will hear at a natural history museum.

MIKE NOVACEK, PROVOST, MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: There's absolutely no scientific evidence aligned with the notion that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

CARROLL: But Creation Museum director Ken Ham says if Christians don't take the bible literally, they undermine its message. So he's confronting the theory of evolution head on.

HAM: The purpose of the museum is really to give people information that's currently being censored from the public schools, from the secular universities, information they don't hear about that actually shows that evolution is not fact.

CARROLL: Demonstrators who disagree with the museum's message protested outside the opening today.

HAM: They do not want children even hearing the possibility that evolution has problems or that it could be wrong. They Don't even want them to hear that. They don't want them to hear the other side.

CARROLL: And if that means believing there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, then so be it.

I have long believed that if the recent earth creation message REALLY got into the public schools and universities, it would be the worst backfire in history because it would expose the YEC arguments to scrutiny on a level that it does not currently get by academia. It would be shown for the sham science that it is. There at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, only one side of the story is being told, and anyone with even a cursory background in science can spot the holes in the arguments. Is this what Ken Ham really wants?

Apparently, there is big money to be made in creationism.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Don't like your modern diet? Check out what people of the palaeolithic ate (or at least what some people think they ate).
Well, this certainly throws a monkey wrench into the Replacement model of modern human origins:

An international team of researchers reported in Monday's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that Asians appear to have played a larger part in the settlement of Europe than Africans did.

The team, led by Maria Martinon-Torres of the National Center for the Investigation of Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, reached that conclusion after analyzing more than 5,000 fossil teeth from early hominins, an early form of human predecessors.

After studying ancient teeth from Africa, Asia and Europe, the researchers reported that early European populations had more Asian features than African ones.

If this bears up, it lends support to the idea that the wave of Homo erectus/rudofensis that moved out of Africa contributed more to the modern gene pool than replacement supporters suggest.

Monday, August 06, 2007

In advance of the Nova special on the Dover School Board case of ID, you could read this.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Off-topic but really cool! Apollo is making the moon landing films available for free online.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Set your VCRs/TiVos. NOVA is going to air a program on the Dover trial on November 13. Although PBS tilts to the left, NOVA normally shoots pretty straight.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Is the multiregional evolution model of modern humans sunk? Roger Highfield doesn't think so.
In case you want a creationism encyclopedia from a Christian perspective, here is Vance Ferrell's 700 page tome. Just a quick glance found him putting forth the "shrinking sun" argument that was demolished over twenty years ago. WHACK!!