Saturday, December 31, 2011

Science Timeline in Nature

Nature News has an interactive timeline of all of the major science stories of the year here. It is a good recap.

Now playing: Glass Hammer - At Last We Are
via FoxyTunes

Gee, Who Knew?

Every so often, Science Daily comes out with a story that, perhaps needs to be restated but is amusing nevertheless. They write:
Climate changes profoundly influenced the rise and fall of six distinct, successive waves of mammal species diversity in North America over the last 65 million years, shows a novel statistical analysis led by Brown University evolutionary biologists. Warming and cooling periods, in two cases confounded by species migrations, marked the transition from one dominant grouping to the next.
I am quite sure that there is more to the Brown study than meets the eye since this information simply reflects what we already knew about how natural selection works in the wild. The story does, in fact, provide detailed information about mammal extinctions and radiations. It is the way in which Science Daily words the headline that is amusing.

This “lack of randomness” was the crux of a piece that I wrote for CFSI a bit back. If anti-evolutionists or ID supporters are willing to argue that evolution is a “godless, random process” then they have to be willing to argue that climate change on the planet is also a random, godless process, since that is what drives biotic change. I haven't heard any of them say that yet.

Now playing: Kansas - Magnum Opus
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bad Science Stories of the Year

Now that I have a working draft of my next BioLogos post done, I can, in good conscience, blog again. Science Daily has a good story on the bad science stories of the year and in there is one of my favorite scientists, Michele Bachmann, who manages to completely mangle the concept and definition of science when she can. Kate Kelland writes:

After Bachmann used an appearance on a television show to tell a story of a woman from Tampa, Florida, who said her daughter had become "mentally retarded" after getting an HPV vaccine designed to protect against cervical cancer, doctors said they feared the damage done may take many years to reverse.

"It's tempting to dismiss celebrity comments on science and health, but their views travel far and wide and, once uttered, a celebrity cancer prevention idea or environmental claim is hard to reverse," said SAS's managing director Tracey Brown.

"At a time when celebrities dominate the public realm, the pressure for sound science and evidence must keep pace."

Wow, did I really just read that? Bachmann sometimes seems like a one-woman war against sound science, one battle at a time.

Please don't vote for this woman.

This article reflects the state of scientific education. I don't think people should be able to exit high school without being able to pass a test on basic science education. That ought to be square one.

Now playing: Glass Hammer - To Someone
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I pray that everyone will have a safe, blessed and joyous Christmas and that the new year will be rich and rewarding.

Love, in Christ,


Thursday, December 22, 2011

On the Other Hand... looks like they did not have as good a sense of smell. Work by Katerina Harvati suggests that Neandertals had a reduced sense of smell compared to modern humans. reports:
"The sense of smell is directly linked to memories to an extent that no other sense is. This explains why smells immediately incite strong emotions concerning past events and also strong feelings about people," Katerina Harvati, of the University of Tubingen and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoecology in Germany, said in a university news release.

The better sense of smell in
H. sapiens may be related to the evolution of social functions such as recognition of related people, enhanced family relations, group cohesion and social learning, Harvati and colleagues suggested.

"Although traditionally olfaction in primates and humans has been considered a less important sense, our study reevaluates its potential significance for human evolution, and particularly for the social evolution of our own species,
Homo sapiens," they concluded.
We also know that Neandertals had longer nasal passages and larger noses—in part to help the air, which was cold, reach body temperature when it reached the nasal membranes.To help this , the infraorbital plates swung out from the middle of the face. Whether this is related to the study by Harvati is not clear.

Now playing: Glass Hammer - To Someone
via FoxyTunes

iTunes Trailer for the Hobbit

iTunes has a 1080p version of “The Hobbit” trailer here. It looks like, rather than being “The Hobbit”, it is actually “2941, Third Age,” since it seems to encompass quite a few of the events that led up to “The Lord of the Rings.” In this sense, it really may be a prequel.

Now playing: Glass Hammer - If The Sun
via FoxyTunes

New CFSI Post

My newest post for CFSI is up. It is loosely based on why a word-for-word interpretation of the scriptures is, very often, a bad thing.

The CFSI site will continue to operate, just with limited funding so I will continue to write for them, but perhaps more erratically. Please keep coming by the site to see what is there.

Now playing: Alex De Grassi - Clockwork—Studio Version
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Neandertals Lived in Houses

Yahoo News Canada is reporting on research in Moldova that reveals what we already know was going on in the Russian steppes—that Neandertals were living in house-like structures. They write:
Researchers from the Museum National d'Histories Naturelle in Paris said it suggests the early human ancestors settled in areas where they built structures to live for extended periods of time.

The circular house was made up of 116 large bones, including mammoth skulls, jaws, 14 tusks and leg bones.

And inside at least 25 hearths filled with ash were also found, suggesting it had been used for some time, the Mail said.
They were every bit as intelligent as we are, just very environmentally-challenged. It is nice to find more evidence of this.

Now playing: Dave Brubeck - Blue Rondo A La Turk
via FoxyTunes

A Trailer For the Hobbit


Monday, December 19, 2011

Christianity in Evolution

The Independent has an article on a new book out by Jack Mahoney, called Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration, in which the Jesuit priest addresses the concept of evolution and how it can be incorporated into the theology of Christ. Peter Stanford writes:
Mainstream Christianity long ago dropped overt hostility to Darwin, and even manages to speak of him fondly on occasion, but it has held back from the next logical step, bringing theology and evolution into meaningful dialogue.
Oh? That is not my understanding of the modern mainstream evangelical's take on evolution. Ken Ham and John Morris oversee legions of followers who are told to have nothing whatever to do with Mr. Darwin and anything he stands for. Onward:
This time round, Christianity in Evolution risks causing similar ripples when it argues that embedding evolution in theology would necessitate a wholesale reappraisal of such time-honoured Christian concepts as Original Sin, the Incarnation and the Fall. So Mahoney presents the life of Jesus, the divine made human, not so much in terms of a sacrifice made to atone for our sins, as countless generations of Christians have been told, but as part of an evolutionary cycle. "God [in the person of Jesus] became a member of the human species in order to provide the human race with a human expression in Christ...of the divine altruism that would counter any innate evolutionary tendency to aggressive self- or tribal interest."
This is not so different from what George Murphy has written (if I have interpreted him correctly) and I have a sneaking suspicion that your average Christian will view this perspective rather dimly, as they did his. The concept of original sin is very well-grounded in modern Christianity, and, recent discussions of the genetics of modern humans notwithstanding, is viewed in more of a spiritual, emotional way than a scientific one. I will have to put this on my to-read list.

Now playing: Genesis - Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist (2007 Remaster)
via FoxyTunes

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Has Died

From the obituary in Reuters:
As a journalist, war correspondent and literary critic, Hitchens carved out a reputation for barbed repartee, scathing critiques of public figures and a fierce intelligence.

In his 2007 book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," Hitchens took on major religions with his trenchant atheism. He argued that religion was the source of all tyranny and that many of the world's evils have been done in the name of religion.
Hitchens often took on creationism, debating William Dembski, and David Berlinski along the way. While I did not share his theological leanings , he was an extraordinarily good writer and, even in his criticisms of religion, often had at least one blow that hit the target. He will be missed.

Now playing: Genesis - Pigeons
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Transgenerationally Acquired Resistance?

A new article by Rechavi et al, in the journal Cell ( is reporting on research involving the introduction of a flockhouse virus into a nematode, which then triggered an immune response to suppress the virus. This response, apparently was then transmitted to its offspring in a non-Mendelian fashion. As the authors put it:
We have described here a series of genetic experiments that provide support for the existence of non-Mendelian, multigenerational inheritance of extrachromosomal information. This information is transmitted in the form of small RNAs, viRNAs, which are induced by an episode of viral replication and which are propagated through the germline in a non-template-dependent manner. Our results therefore support the Lamarckian concept of the inheritance of an acquired trait.
This will, no doubt, raise eyebrows and spawn a number of independent tests to confirm the results. Cornelius Hunter hopped on the bandwagon, writing:
This is of course reminiscent of the pre Darwin theory proposed by Jean Baptiste Larmarck that evolution occurs via traits developing not via random change but in response to need, and then the passing of these traits to later generations. Evolutionists harshly criticized, ridiculed and blackballed Larmarckism in the last century but now even they are finding it difficult to deny the accumulation of evidence.
Three things Hunter overlooks here is that Lamarck came up with his theory of acquired inheritance in absence of any other model out there to explain biological descent with modification, he was looking at large order traits such as appendage length, hair color and whatnot and that, despite some growing evidence for epigenetic evolution, there is still a vast amount of evidence for evolution based on the well-heeled processes of mutation, selection, drift and flow. It should, nonetheless, be interesting to see what comes of this.

Now playing: Keith Emerson - Cigarettes, Ices, Etc.
via FoxyTunes

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Meaning of “Biblical Literalism”

Todd Wood points us to an article by Joshua Moritz on The Search For Adam Revisited: Evolution, Biblical Literalism, and the Question of Human Uniqueness that shows up in the journal Theology and Science. It appears to be open-access and I had no trouble securing a copy. Although the focus is on the idea of how to interpret the creation narratives in a literal, yet textually faithful fashion, Moritz, in quite concise language, points out the glaring origin of modern young-earth creationism and how different it was from the understanding of biblical literalism of the day:
Even more recently, such as at the time of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), the actual face of biblical literalism was quite different than one might expect—especially if one has in mind young earth creationism with its insistence upon a 10,000 year old recently-created earth and its focus on ‘‘flood geology’’. Around the time of the Scopes trial in the early twentieth century, there is no record of any biblical literalists within normative Christianity who interpreted the Bible as claiming a recent creation in six 24-hour days or that Noah’s flood had anything to do with how one should interpret the record of global stratigraphy. Indeed, literalists at that time saw Noah’s flood as a local phenomenon and ‘‘even the most literalistic Bible believers accepted the antiquity of life on Earth as revealed in the paleontological record.’’ The one exception to this general rule was the Seventh Day Adventists—a sect of Millerites who, after 1844 (and disillusioned by Christ’s failure to return), regrouped under the leadership and supernatural visions of the teenage prophetess Ellen G. White—a charismatic young woman ‘‘whose pronouncements Adventists placed on par with the Bible’’. White and her Seventh Day Adventist followers harbored no doubts about the correct reading of the early chapters of Genesis because in a trancelike vision White was ‘‘carried back to the creation’’ by God himself, ‘‘and was shown that the first week, in which God performed the work of creation in six [24 hour] days and rested on the seventh day, was just like every other week.’’ White likewise saw that during Noah’s flood, God created all the various geological layers of sediment and fossils by burying the organic debris and causing ‘‘a powerful wind to pass over the some instances carrying away the tops of mountains like mighty avalanches...burying the dead bodies with trees, stones, and earth.’’ Thus, from the divine dreams of Ellen White young earth creationism was born and, ironically, it was conceived in stark opposition to the reigning biblical literalism of the day.
Most young earth creationists that I know are, I believe, unaware of this information. How, or if it would change their Christian walk is unclear. It is instructive to read Ron Numbers' The Creationists to see how dominant the Adventists were in the formation of modern-day young earth creationism.

The article is a good expose on how the scriptures would read if we really did read them literally, which is quite differently than our modern understanding of them is. He reiterates the position that is held by Paul Marston and others, that there is absolutely nothing in the passages that indicates that Adam and Eve are the only people around during the account in Genesis.

Although the paper is largely devoid of scientific observations, he ends by reminding those of us that tend to think too highly of the scientific endeavor that it is not the be all and end all that we think that it is:
While the doctrine of creation demands that Christians take science seriously, a large part of taking science seriously is to understand that science, as such, is not (and never has been) in the business of making unalterable pronouncements about the nature of reality. Because there is so much terrain in both science and theology that remains unexplored we must press onward in faith, sobered by a good dose of epistemic humility, and taking care in the meantime to not greatly exaggerate the reports of Adam’s death.
That said, if all the evidence points in one direction, how long do we ignore it?

Now playing: Alan Parsons - Rubber Universe
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Archaeological Evidence: Neandertals and Modern Humans Interacted and Interbred

The Newsroom at the University of Colorado has released news of a study that links the archaeological evidence in Europe with Neandertal/early modern human interaction and, probably, interbreeding. They write:
Anthropologists using computer modeling to determine how early hominins adapted to climate change during the last Ice Age, have gained new insights into why Neanderthals disappeared as a distinct population some 30,000 years ago.

The scientists believe Neanderthals interbred with more numerous modern humans until they ceased to exist as their own population.

This is called "gene swamping" and is not uncommon. The authors further argue:
“Neanderthal genes make up between one and four percent of today’s human genome, especially in those of European descent. Their legacy lives on in our genome and possibly in our cultural knowledge.”
Modern humans begin to show up in Europe during the Early Würm/Late Würm glaciation, between 35 and 40 thousand years B.P. A good representation of these hominins are those from the cave of Mladeč, which, while being classified as modern humans, have characteristics reminiscent of Neandertals. Even the later hominins such as those from the central European site of Dolní Vĕstonice, show archaic characteristics such as expanded occipital buns (a bulge at the rear of the vault). This all makes sense within the context of hybridization between the two groups of people. Fred Smith was right.

Now playing: Mike Oldfield - On Horseback
via FoxyTunes

Sightly Off-Topic: Ken Ham Comes Through

Recently, a rural pastor in Pike County, Kentucky, made national news when he forebade congregation members from engaging in interracial marriage if they wanted to take part in the church. has this to say:

In early November, [Pastor Melvin] Thompson proposed the church go on record saying that while all people were welcome to attend public worship services there, the church did not condone interracial marriage, according to a copy of the recommendation supplied by the Harvilles.

The proposal also said "parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services" or other church functions, with the exception of funerals.

The recommendation "is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve," the copy supplied to the Herald-Leader read.

Well, as they should have, the Christian community (not to mention the secular one) rose up in arms against this as being un-Christian in spirit and theology.

Not far away, this is what Ken Ham had to say:
From a biblical perspective, all humans are descendants of one man and one woman—Adam and Eve (1 Corinthians 15:45; Genesis 3:20). Thus, if the Bible’s history is accurate, biologically, only one race of human beings exists.

Modern observational science confirms that this is the case. When the Human Genome Project was completed in 2000, scientists announced that they had put together a draft of the entire sequence of the human genome and “the researchers had unanimously declared, there is only one race—the human race.
He went on:
Certainly a couple from different cultural groups needs godly counsel, as do all couples, to help ensure they understand their roles in marriage and the differences they have that could potentially cause problems. However, if a man and woman trust Christ as their Savior and believe it would please Him for them to marry, nothing in Scripture disallows this, from either a biological or a spiritual perspective.

Christians must think about marriage as God thinks about each one of us. When the prophet Samuel went to anoint the next king of Israel, he thought the oldest of Jesse’s sons was the obvious choice due to his outward appearance. However, we read in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’”
It is encouraging to see modern Christian leaders stepping up and condemning this nonsense. That is occurs at all, even in rural Kentucky is very disheartening.

P.S. It should be pointed out that the church reversed its ruling. Still, that it happened at all is quite something.

Now playing: Paul Desmond - I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face
via FoxyTunes

Monday, December 05, 2011

Checking in on BIO-Complexity

So, it has been a year and a half since the Center for Science and Culture, the wing of the Discovery Institute, inaugurated BIO-Complexity, the new journal devoted to objectively examining the evidence for intelligent design. At the time, I wrote the following, concerning the viability of the journal:
The only other way that this would work is if competent scholars in biological complexity were to submit papers. Then the journal would probably get a wide variety of papers, some supportive of ID (maybe) and some not. Even if some of them were not supportive, though, the board would be foolish not to publish them. If it only accepted ID friendly papers which were then reviewed by the biological community as a whole and found wanting, it would be another nail in the coffin for the scientific argument for ID.

The Discovery Institute have set themselves up a huge task here and are finally putting their cards on the table. Lets see what kind of hand they have.
Now we know what kind of hand they have. It is not very good. Since its debut, eighteen months ago, the journal has produced...

five research articles.

That is one article every 3½ months. Even brand new journals in the sciences have at least five to seven articles per month. Further, the current year, which is now in its waning days, has seen only two articles. That is slightly better than one article every six months.

It gets worse. Three of the five articles are either single-authored or co-authored by Douglas Axe, who is the managing editor and only four authors represented are not on the editorial board.

This is inbreeding if I have ever seen it. This level of production is every bit what I feared: the lack of impartiality has given rise to a journal that is slanted in one direction: support of ID. In April of this year, Todd Wood wrote the following:
In the larger scheme of things, I am sensing a discouraging pattern to BIO-Complexity publications. As I quoted above, the journal is supposed to be about "testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life," which is a great goal. But this is the fifth paper published by BIO-Complexity, and it's the fifth paper that focuses on perceived inadequacies of evolution. So when are we going to test "the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life?"
The number of papers that do address the merits of the ID explanation for life simply aren't there. Why not? Surely in eighteen months, at least two or three papers discussing research in this area would have been submitted for publication. Where are these papers? Where is this research?

Is it possible that the intention was never to address this laudable goal? Was it always to write papers trying to poke holes in evolutionary theory? It certainly seems that way. The problem is, based on their output and the lack of diversity in authorship, they cannot even do much of that.

Now playing: Kerry Livgren - Ground Zero
via FoxyTunes

Friday, December 02, 2011

Modern Humans Out of Africa Earlier Than Thought?

The Australian is reporting on the find in Arabia of stone tools purported to be crafted to modern humans that date to around 100 000 years ago (date derived by thermoluminescence). They write:

Jeffrey Rose, an archaeologist with Britain's Birmingham University and head of the Dhofar Archaeological Project, said: "After a decade of searching in southern Arabia for some clue that might help us understand early human expansion, at long last we've found the smoking gun of their exit from Africa."

The discovery also challenges current thinking about the route the migrants took, say Dr Rose and his colleagues, including geochronologist Bert Roberts of Wollongong University.

The article shows up in PLoS1. This is intriguing and certainly adds one more piece of the puzzle but I am not sure why it so earth-shattering. We already know that we have hominins in the Levant that pass, in most ways, for modern humans and are dated to between 90 and 110 000 B.P. We also have the Herto remains at 140-160 000, which are also mostly modern. A glance at the map shows that the gap between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula is very narrow here and it would not have been a problem to navigate the waters at this point. This just represents another migration route of many. The authors of the paper call the assemblage that was discovered a Nubian variant of the “Middle Stone Age,” which tracks as a post-Acheulean industry and is present in various forms in Africa from about 300 000 years B.P. down to around 40 000 or so. Here is the map from the article:

As you can see, there is Nubian in both Arabia and in the Nile valley. Interestingly, when you get to the Levantine peninsula, you run into “modern” humans creating Levantine Mousterian, another Middle Palaeolithic industry, which means they had contact with the Neandertals who were escaping the cold to come south during the early Würm glaciation. It is during the Early Würm/Late Würm interglacial period that the early moderns get the bright idea to head north, out of the Levant.

1Rose JI, Usik VI, Marks AE, Hilbert YH, Galletti CS, et al. (2011) The Nubian Complex of Dhofar, Oman: An African Middle Stone Age Industry in Southern Arabia. PLoS ONE 6(11): e28239. doi:

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times - (i) Fanfare, (ii) Lutes' Chorus, (iii) Misty Battlements, (iv) Lutes' Chorus Reprise, (v) Henry Goes to War, (vi) Death of a Knight, (vii) Triumphant Return
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Slightly Off-Topic: Why Science Works Even When People Behave Badly

Ars Technica has a fascinating story about scientific misconduct involving a retrovirus and how the whole thing came apart like a cheap suit. A cautionary tale.

Now playing: Steve Hackett - Gavottes, BWV 1012
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dear Svante, I am a Neandertal

The Guardian's Notes and Theories has a column on the mail that Svante Pääbo received after delivering the revelation that Neandertals and Early modern humans interbred. They write:
In the months after the paper was published, Pääbo began to receive letters and emails from people who had read about the work. He decided to keep track of the correspondence, at least until September that year, to see if any trends appeared. He wasn't disappointed.

Some 45 men wrote in to declare themselves fully or partially Neanderthal and several asked if they should provide saliva samples for Pääbo to analyse. Over the same few months, only two women wrote in to declare themselves of Neanderthal stock.
I think that it was Dave Frayer who once said that, on an individual trait basis, you could see the remnants of Neandertals in the modern European populations but that if you took the whole suite of Neandertal traits, there wasn't a person alive who had them. I wonder what led the women to think they were Neandertals? “Evening vear. Svimvear. Very nice!”

Now playing: Yes - Can You Imagine
via FoxyTunes

Monday, November 28, 2011

British Muslim Students and Evolution

There is, apparently, a growing problem in Great Britain right now with Muslim medical students—they are skipping the lectures on Evolution. According to the Mail Online:
Professors at University College London have expressed concern over the increasing number of biology students boycotting lectures on Darwinist theory, which form an important part of the syllabus, citing their religion.

Similar to the beliefs expressed by fundamentalist Christians, Muslim opponents to Darwinism maintain that Allah created the world, mankind and all known species in a single act.
This was foreseeable given the changes that England has gone through in the last two decades, leading one author to call London “Londonistan.” Young earth creationism has been growing in importance and influence in Islamic countries. Part of the problem is Adnan Oktar, nee Harun Yahya:
Sources within the group Muslims4UK partly blame the growing popularity of creationist beliefs within Islam on Turkish author Harun Yahya who, influenced by the success of Christian creationists in America, has written several books denouncing Darwinist theory.

Yahya associates Dawinism with Nazism and his books are and videos are available at many Islamic bookshops in the UK and regularly feature on Islamic television channels.
That his books have no evidence to support them and are very pompously written does not detract from their influence. I am curious to see how the British press view this, given their reluctance to draw any negative attention to anything Islamic. When Christians reject evolution, they are considered rightwing fundamentalist nuts.

Now playing: Mike Oldfield - Incantations - Part One
via FoxyTunes

Lynn Margulis Has Died

From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst:
Margulis was best known for her theory of symbiogenesis, which challenges central tenets of neo-Darwinism. She argued that inherited variation, significant in evolution, does not come mainly from random mutations. Rather, new tissues, organs, and even new species evolve primarily through the long-lasting intimacy of strangers. The fusion of genomes in symbioses followed by natural selection, she suggests, leads to increasingly complex levels of individuality. Margulis was also acknowledged for her contribution to James E. Lovelock’s Gaia concept. Gaia theory posits that the Earth’s surface interactions among living beings sediment, air, and water have created a vast self-regulating system.
The notion of symbiogenesis has come under some guarded acceptance in recent years, her work with Lovelock, not so much. R.I.P.

Now playing: Genesis - Anything She Does (2007 Remaster)
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Short History of Humans and Vitamin D

The Philadelphia Enquirer has an article on the research done by Nina Jablinski on humans’ evolution of skin color as a response to the need for vitamin D. Most of this is not unknown, the higher in latitude a population is, the lighter the skin color to maximise the amount of Vitamin D that is absorbed from the sun. In a nut shell, this is why equatorial populations are dark-skinned as well. Response to the amount of Vitamin D that is needed for a given population is subject to very high degrees of selection. Faye Flam writes:
Originally, humans made more than enough in skin, Holick said. When some of our ancestors left Africa, they adjusted their skin tone to allow in more sunlight. Penn State's Jablonski found that around the world, the skin color of native people maps almost perfectly onto a map of UV radiation; the more UV, the darker the average skin.

In 2005, Penn State professor Mark Shriver and colleagues isolated a genetic mutation that contributed to Europeans' having white skin, a mutation that in zebra fish leads to absence of the characteristic stripes.

Shriver, a professor of anthropology and genetics, said the original human skin color was probably light, because other apes are light-skinned under their fur. Dark skin became advantageous in Africa when we lost our fur.

Genetic evidence suggests that light-skin-related mutations arose recently, less than 15,000 years ago, and spread fast through Europeans.

Jablonski said that when scientists scraped bits of DNA from Neanderthal skeletons, they found a mutation of another skin-color-related gene. Neanderthals lived in Europe and the Middle East long before our ancestors left Africa, and apparently they independently evolved light skin.

In the Arctic, the Inuit never developed light skin, which scientists at first considered a paradox until they discovered how much Vitamin D is in a traditional Inuit diet, which included oily fish and whale blubber.
That Neandertals underwent a slightly different mutation and selection to the need for Vitamin D suggests that there was at least some separation between them and the incoming modern humans. One wonders what gene was involved in the Denisova DNA.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Ascension
via FoxyTunes

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Mind of Neandertals

Nature has a review of a book called How To Think Like a Neandertal by Thomas Wynn and Frederick Coolidge. Curiously, the authors spell “Neandertal” correctly but the Nature editors do not. They still spell it the old way, with the “h” in it. The Germans dropped that over a hundred years ago. Clive Gamble writes:
Wynn and Coolidge conclude that today, Neanderthals would be commercial fishermen or mechanics, based on their enormous strength and ability to learn the motor procedures needed. Their capacity for empathy might even have made them competent physicians, the authors say, although a lack of mathematical ability means that they would never have been able to graduate from medical school. Neanderthals would also make excellent army grunts, with their high levels of pain tolerance, and would be good tacticians in small combat units. They would never rewrite the tactical manual — although tearing it up, however thick, would not be a problem.
Without having read the book (and I plan to), it is difficult for me to accept that we could know these sorts of things based on the fossil record that we have. I am also skeptical of the limitations that are attributed to Neandertals. Once again, your life would be different if you lived in the U.S. when the tundra line extended into southern Ohio and there was no Canada. I would also like to know how they have figured out that Neandertals liked “slapstick humor.”

Now playing: Wynton Kelly Trio - No Blues
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Neandertals Found on the Greek Islands

They are sunny, tranquil and surrounded by gorgeous blue-green ocean. They are the Greek isles and now, it seems, they were also home to a population of Neandertals. The Greek Reporter writes:

Meganisi – a small and beautiful strip of land four miles south-east of Lefkada- is part of the group of small islands called Prighiponisia, among which is the famous Skorpios owned by the Onassis family.

On the basis of elements brought to light during excavations, Meganisi’s first inhabitants – according to archaeologists – were Neanderthal men and women living in that part of the Ionian Sea 100,000 years ago in a period scholars call the Mid-Paleolithic Era. The archaeological discovered on the island of Meganisi provide evidence of the presence of human beings in the Mesolithic Period, which with small intervals cover many millennia to the late Roman period.

This is not much of a surprise. The Greek islands are not very far apart and we already know that archaic Homo sapiens were in Greece some 250-300 thousand years ago as represented by the Petralona skull (below) and some other finds.

If I had the chance to live on those islands, I would, too.

Now playing: Mike Rutherford - Romani
via FoxyTunes

Friday, November 18, 2011

Slightly Off-Topic: The Nature of Moths

Harriet Walker writes about the nature of moths in this column and, while I am convinced that God does not hate us in the least bit, I am reminded that the world in which we live is not as tame as we would like to think. After all, moths will be moths.

Now playing: Alan Parsons - Siren Song
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Gigantopithecus Ate

A story in PhysOrg reports on research done on the diet of Gigantopithecus blacki, the immense primate that lived during the late Miocene in southern China and Vietnam. They write:
Drs. ZHAO LingXia, ZHANG LiZhao and WU XinZhi, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Ac of Sciences, and ZHANG FuSong from Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, analyze enamel stable carbon isotope values of G. blacki and the associated mammalian megafauna from two sites in South China, and find that this giant ape and other large mammals solely fed on C3 biomass, and lived in forest habitats, as reported in the journal of Chinese Science Bulletin, 2011(56), No.33:3590-3595.
C3 biomass sources are more primitive than C4, which include the canes and more open-field grains. This is not a surprise, just confirmation of what we suspected.

This was a truly unusual and majestic ape, standing some eight to ten feet tall. There were two species, G. bilasporensis and G. blacki, the latter of which lasted until around 300 k years ago. It is this form that is likely the impetus behind the Sasquatch and abominable snowman stories. Here is an artist' sketch, based on accumulated jaws and teeth.

Now playing: The Alan Parsons Project - The Fall Of The House Of Usher: IV. Pavane
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New BioLogos Post is Up

My new post on early Homo is up at BioLogos. As always, comments are welcome here and there.

Now playing: Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition: Promenade/The Gnome/Promenade/The Sage/The Hut Of Baba Yaga...
via FoxyTunes

Peter Hess is “Clearing the Middle Path”

Robert Luhn, the Director of Communications for the National Center for Science Education sent me a link to an American Scientific Affiliation profile of Peter Hess. Hess is the staff theologian for the NCSE. The profile is written by Emily Ruppel. She writes:
Two years ago, ASA member Peter Hess participated in a colloquium on Intelligent Design at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. He argued that science can neither discover nor rule out the existence of God. A few days later, in the online discussion sparked by this event, a blogger labeled him the Anti-Christ.
Gotta love that Christian tolerance on full display.If he is the Anti-Christ, then there are a whole bunch of us running around. Onward.
“The problem with Biblical literalists is that they are ignorant of exegetical history,” says Peter, “and are generally unaware that an insistence on a woodenly literal understanding of scripture is a relatively recent invention imposed on the Church’s traditional four-fold interpretation. They’re as ignorant of theology as they are of the sciences they presume to critique…

“On the other hand, the issue with some scientists who are atheists is that they fail to see that they are actually making a theological claim by declaring that there is nothing to believe in. Scientists who feel they are qualified to comment authoritatively on religious faith because they have apprehended some of the truths of the natural world are putting on a very ill-fitting philosophical hat.”
The four-fold sense of scripture interpretation (if I understand it correctly) is that scripture should variously be interpreted in a literal sense, where actual events have been recorded, an allegorical sense, where seemingly actual events are not meant in a literal sense but in an allegorical one, a moral sense in that all scripture is good and useful for teaching a Godly way of approaching life, and an anagogical one, in which a truth or event signifies something greater or points us to Heaven. This is yet another area of my theological education that is severely wanting.

It is also hard not to read the second part of that quote and think of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and how badly it fared at the review table. Hess, indeed, wonders why Dawkins has been so ignorant of contemporary issues in Christianity. He is so for the same reason that Ken Ham is so abysmally ignorant of basic evolutionary biology and the fossil record. It is much easier to maintain a hostile position to the other side if you perceive them as promulgating lies and misinformation. That honest, thought-provoking scriptural interpretation or education about the natural history of the earth get lost in the process is simply collateral damage.

The entire article is very good and profiles someone who is honestly struggling to find a common ground where all can discuss the issues. This is, or should be, our fervent prayer.

Now playing: Mannheim Steamroller - The Fifth Door
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Post Up at CFSI

My new post is up at CFSI. It is called Can You Practice a Science You Don't Believe? and deals with the question of whether or not you can practice science with integrity and deal honestly with the evidence and yet not believe the results it provides. As always, comments are welcome.

Now playing: Yellow Magic Orchestra - Cue
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, November 10, 2011

John Evans — “Science and Religion: A False Divide?”

I missed this when it came out. John Evans of the L.A. Times (not normally a newspaper I pick up) wrote an interesting column about the controversy between science and religion and his contention that the whole thing is overhyped. He writes:

On most issues, there is actually very little conflict between religion and science. Religion makes no claims about the speed of hummingbird wings, and there are no university departments of anti-resurrection studies — scientists generally are unconcerned with the vast majority of religious claims and vice versa.

There are, of course, a few fact claims in which conservative Protestant theology and science differ, such as the origins of humans and the universe. Here we find that typical conservative Protestants are likely to believe the teaching of their religion on the issue and not the scientific claim.

We could complain that they are being inconsistent in believing the scientific method some of the time but not always. Yet social science research has long shown that people typically are not very consistent. The people who are more consistent are those who are punished for inconsistency: philosophers, media pundits, political activists and politicians.

I have often marveled at how much emphasis this topic has taken up in the media and religious world. As I pointed out in my post on the Miss America pageant, that the contestants were asked whether or not evolution should be taught in public schools had very little relevance to them. All it did was single out the religious conservatives and also point out that science education had all but failed them in this area. For your average person, the creation-evolution controversy has little traction and most view it as a curiosity of modern society. Consequently, when my church friends ask me about it, I always ask them why it is important to them to learn the science behind the old earth model since such knowledge will needlessly complicate their lives. That doesn't seem to stop them, though.

Evans has one other nugget:

The greatest conflict between fundamentalists, evangelicals and science is not over facts but over values. While scientists like to say that their work is value-free, that is not how the public views it, and conservative Protestants especially have homed in on the moral message of science.
This is a slow realization for most scientists. I tend to view evolution in much the way that I view nuclear energy: regardless of what values we attach to it, it exists—independent of those values. David Klinghoffer, over at the Discovery Institute, argues that “Darwinism” has ruined society and caused evils of all sorts, as if somehow if we brand it as evil, it will just go away.

It is also not just that the vast majority of scientists tend to view science amorally, they view attempts to infuse scientific discourse with morality with repugnance. It is the few here and there that seek to venture beyond the bounds of science to argue for or against the existence of God and even if they are highly regarded in their fields (for example Richard Dawkins), their efforts to do this are not.

The problem is these few are very highly visible and, unfortunately, set the tone for the discourse and the understanding of the scientific enterprise. After all, if Richard Dawkins is an eminent evolutionary biologist and he claims, vociferously, that God doesn't exist, why shouldn't evangelicals attach morality to his science?

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - The Geese and the Ghost (2008 Remaster)
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Jonathan Dudley Wonders “Why Evangelicals Believe Weird Things”

Author of Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics, Jonathan Dudley writes:
Lay evangelicals evaluate the arguments made by “experts” in a manner different from many non-evangelicals. The latter will often ask: How prestigious is her academic pedigree? Is she representing the consensus of similarly credentialed experts? Insofar as I can understand her arguments, do they convince me? Lay evangelicals ask different questions: How good of a Christian is this guy? (Or, in evangelical parlance, “How is his walk with the LORD?”) How closely do his arguments line up with my understanding of the Bible? Is this guy one of us?
Despite the “Blunt stick” approach of this statement, comments made here and in the BioLogos comments sections seem to bear this up to some extent. Ken Ham recently also broadcast this idea far and wide in his address on the “Unbiblical teachings of BioLogos.” It is Their science, not Biblical science. He outlines the problem that is growing in political and evangelical circles as the rift between fundamental evangelicalism and the academy increases. Read the whole thing.

Now playing: Mannheim Steamroller - Interlude V
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Denisova Update

John Hawks does not think that the recent data from the paper by Skoglund and Jakobsson holds up under scrutiny. He cites striking discrepancies between the analysis presented by these two with a paper that came out by Reich et al. ( called “Denisova admixture and the first modern human dispersals into southeast Asia and oceania.” Their salient finding is that there were very few Denisovan markers in mainland Asian populations.

Hawks suggests that the reason the two papers differ so greatly is that in the paper by Skoglund and Jakobsson, the analysis is picking up only slight differences in gene frequencies between populations, and that, while there is hybridization and migration into the area by Denisovans, it is small in amount. He writes:
We aren't very far from a more definitive answer of this question, as the data continue to accumulate every day. What I find interesting is the way that models can generate these 1% differences in ancestry proportions, depending on sampling and the pattern of migration assumed to have happened in the past. Two estimates that differ by less than a percent are not really different. This paper provides the suggestion of a more widespread Denisovan legacy, and I accept that as a possibility.
It is clear that there was some interbreeding between these populations. How much remains to be seen.

Hat tip to Paul Pavao.
Now playing: Steve Hackett - Four Winds: West
via FoxyTunes

One Big, Polytypic Family

Science Daily has a story on research from Uppsala University that the Denisova genome is showing up in East Asia. They write:
"Our study covers a larger part of the world than earlier studies, and it is clear that it is not as simple as we previously thought. Hybridization took place at several points in evolution, and the genetic traces of this can be found in several places in the world. We'll probably be uncovering more events like these," says Mattias Jakobsson, who conducted the study together with Pontus Skoglund.
Given that we have evidence of Neandertal hybridization as well, it is appearing as if there was a good deal of gene swapping among many late Pleistocene populations. This is certainly what many researchers think that the fossil material reflects, especially that from South East Asia and China. My guess is that, as they uncover more events, the level of hybridization between Neandertals (and other archaic Homo sapiens populations) and moderns will be found to have been higher than thought.

Now playing: Peter, Paul & Mary - Apologize
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Albert Mohler on Parellel Cultures, Karl Giberson, Randall Stephens and Liberal Theology

Albert Mohler has also weighed in on the “parallel cultures” idea that was floated by Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens in their New York Times story. Initially, I did not address the Giberson/Stephens article in the NYT but will now do so. Mohler writes:
The New York Times recently found themselves taken to task by writers presenting themselves as fellow evangelicals. Their essay reveals the central question that evangelicals must now answer: Do we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
Actually, that is not what Giberson and Stephens are about in the least. Mohler takes a sort of ‘Ken Hammish’ approach here (and I don't mean this in a positive way) by suggesting broadly that the concern that Giberson and Stephens are voicing is not really why evangelicals are anti-science but rather that they have rejected belief in the Bible. Let's see what Giberson and Stephens actually write:
Like other evangelicals, we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book, though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation. Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.
This sounds perfectly reasonable. Why would Mohler paint it as a rejection of the Bible? Let's read on to find out. In the original New York Times article, Giberson and Stephens argue as their central point that modern evangelicals and GOP candidates are ‘anti-science’ but then make an odd mis-step. They profile some modern leaders of the modern evangelical movement, including Ken Ham (fish? barrel?), David Barton (who rather hilariously argued that the founding fathers of the country had already addressed and rejected the theory of evolution) and James Dobson, who, they argue, has outdated ideas about homosexuality and actually agrees with spanking children and...


Come again? What has any of that to do with their central premise? From my point of view, not much. Further, it opens them up to Dr. Mohler, who blasts away with both barrels. He writes:
Appearing on the October 20, 2011 edition of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation program, Giberson argued that homosexuality should not be much of a concern at all. He revealed even more of his own approach to the Bible by asserting that “there’s just a handful of proof text[s] scattered throughout the Bible about homosexuality,” adding: “Jesus said absolutely nothing about it.”

That hardly represents an honest or respectful approach to dealing with the Bible’s comprehensive and consistent revelation concerning human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. Is Romans 1, for example, just a scattered proof text? Is not all of the Bible God’s Word? Well, Giberson has already made his view of the Bible clear — it is simply “trumped” by science when describing the natural world.

For your average evangelical, who is familiar with passages in the Old Testament:
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18: 22)
and in the New Testament:
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy: 1:10-11)
it is pretty hard to square that what Giberson is saying is scriptural in any sense.

Why is the passage on homosexuality a problem? It is a problem because if Mohler can show that Giberson and Stephens are not scripturally sound in this area, why should they be believed on the subject of science in general and evolution in specific? Is it not just another aspect of their secular viewpoint?

Whether or not there are arguments for interpreting the above verses in a different way than the way they come across is practically irrelevant here. Giberson and Stephens might just as well have donned bright red Star Trek ‘Enterprise Security’ shirts. It does not matter that Mohler knows little about evolutionary biology, the fossil record, or the geological record. That is no longer the issue at hand. The issue at hand is the “secular knowledge” that is being espoused by Giberson and Stephens, which is at odds with the vast majority of evangelicals. In one swift move, Mohler is able to link acceptance of evolution with liberal teaching on homosexuality. After reading Giberson's and Stephens' New York Times essay, why would your average evangelical even think about changing their minds about evolution?

Now playing: Dave Beegle - Sandy's Painting
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Todd Wood Responds on Excellence

Todd Wood has a follow-up post on the whole parallel cultures idea, in which he argues that having parallel cultures is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just that we, as Christians, can do better. He writes:
Yes, there are people out there who will look down on you for your background and your faith, but there are also folks who will not. If you do good work and keep at it, eventually people will take notice. Why should you let the bigots hold you back? Be excellent! Don't settle for a life and career of mediocrity.

That's the point. Christians don't have to settle for second best or leftovers. You can be excellent! You don't have to keep churning out sub-par dreck and whining about how the world is discriminating against your Christian values. You can be excellent with what you have. You don't have to settle
I wish more Christians in the science arena thought this way. Given Fuz Rana's recent embarrassing post (one below this one), I am not hopeful.

Now playing: Steve Hackett - A Place Called Freedom
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fuz Rana on Human Evolution

Fuz Rana wants to know: “Will the Real Human Ancestor Please Stand Up.” He writes:
It is commonly reported that humans and chimps share 99 percent genetic similarity. For many people, this high degree of genetic similarity means humans must have evolved from an ape-like primate, sharing a common ancestor with chimpanzees. However, it should be noted that, when comparing the full genomes of humans and chimps, around one quarter of the two genomes don’t align and the similarity of those portions that do align is between 90 and 95 percent. (Go here and here for comparisons.)

According to the evolutionary model, humans and chimps share a common ancestor with gorillas. And humans, chimps, and gorillas share a common ancestor with orangutans. These presumed evolutionary relationships should be reflected in genetic comparisons between humans and the great apes, where scientists expect to find gorillas and orangutans displaying less similarity, respectively, to humans than to chimpanzees.

Yet, this is not always the case. Researchers have recently discovered that about one percent of the human genome displays a greater genetic similarity to orangutans than it does to chimpanzees. This result follows on the heels of an earlier study that found that 23 percent of random sequences sampled from the human genome point to a primate other than chimpanzees as our closest evolutionary relative.2 In other words, depending on the region of the genome that is selected, differing “evolutionary trees” result for humans and the great apes.

He argues that a key portion of evolutionary biology is violated because these genetic trees do not completely agree with each other and don't completely agree with the fossil record. In support of this idea, he cites three articles, the first of which is called “Incomplete Lineage Sorting Patterns among Human, Chimpanzee, and Orangutan Suggest Recent Orangutan Speciation and Widespread Selection.” ( Ironically, in a section of the article to which Rana does not refer, the authors of this paper write:
The exact amount of ILS [interlineage sorting] locally in the genome depends on the recombination rate and factors such as functional constraints (Figs. 4, 5). The observed ~1% of ILS is entirely consistent with the effective population size of 50,000 inferred for the human–chimpanzee ancestor and the speciation time difference of 8 Myr inferred between human–chimpanzee and human–chimpanzee–orangutan, assuming a generation time of 20 yr [emphasis mine].
How does this not fit an evolutionary model? These authors of this paper certainly think it does, an expected one, at that. No evolutionary biologist has ever said that there has to be 100% agreement between all different kinds of trees. It has never occurred to them that this would ever be a problem. That is a straw man argument that Rana has put up. In response to the argument of discordant trees, Dennis Venema has posted a great article on this concept of incomplete lineage sorting. He writes:
The fact that gene phylogenies/trees and species phylogenies/trees don’t always match is not something that surprises scientists, since it is a well-known phenomenon and the mechanisms underlying it are understood: species arise from genetically diverse populations and that diversity does not always sort completely down to every descendant species.
The second article that Rana cites is “Mapping Human Genetic Ancestry,” by Ebersberger et al. ( Once again, in a part of the article to which Rana does not refer, they write:
For about 23% of our genome, we share no immediate genetic ancestry with our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. This encompasses genes and exons to the same extent as intergenic regions. We conclude that about 1/3 of our genes started to evolve as human-specific lineages before the differentiation of human, chimps, and gorillas took place. This explains recurrent findings of very old human-specific morphological traits in the fossils record, which predate the recent emergence of the human species about 5-6 MYA. Furthermore, the sorting of such ancestral phenotypic polymorphisms in subsequent speciation events provides a parsimonious explanation why evolutionary derived characteristics are shared among species that are not each other's closest relatives [emphasis mine].
Funny, it doesn't look like the authors are proposing a non-evolutionary relationship here. Once again, it fits perfectly with what we think is going on with the fossil record, which indicates a human-chimp separation time at around 6 million years ago. In fact, this kind of scenario fits perfectly with the recent finding about the frame-shift mutation of the sugar molecule Neu5Gc, suggesting that sympatric speciation may have happened in the human fossil line (the G.G. Simpson in me just shuddered). It is, consequently, difficult to see how this article supports Rana’s conclusion.

The third article that Rana has marshaled to his argument is by Morris Goodman, one of the dons of genetic analysis. The Goodman article appears in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution1. He quotes Goodman as writing thus:
If the biblical account of creation were true, then independent features of morphology, proteins, and DNA sequences would not be expected to be congruent with each other. Chaotic patterns, with different proteins and different DNA sequences failing to indicate any consistent set of species relationships, would contradict the theory of evolution.
Rana is using this statement by Goodman to indict evolutionary theory, since, given what he thinks he has shown, that is exactly what the evidence of the first two papers is. The problem is that a bit further in the article, Goodman says:
Human serum proteins shown only small antigenic differences from orang-utans and gibbons, and tiny differences from gorillas and chimpanzees. Given the extensive morphological evolution involved, the extent of protein evolution between humans and other hominoids is surprisingly small. Alternatively, if the 'molecular clock' is applied to immunological distances and the divergence between hominoids and old world monkeys arbitrarily set at 30 million years ago, the human-African ape split occurs at 5 million years ago [emphasis mine].
Once again, perfectly in keeping with evolutionary theory and perfectly in keeping with the results by Ebersbrerger et al, who also (twenty years later!) see the evidence as pointing to a human/ape split between five and six million years ago.

It is difficult to find anything redeeming in Rana's post. It is further difficult to derive a conclusion that these articles don't support the evolutionary paradigm, since they all clearly do. Did he simply not read them? Did he hope that none of his readers would? For someone who is trained in molecular biology to employ such a standard creationist trick is astounding and deeply, deeply disappointing. It also lends more credence to what Todd Wood recently said about RTB:
I would recommend that no one accept any of RTB's arguments without fact-checking their claims first. I do not know whether these problems are due to lazy scholarship, ignorance, intentional deception, or ideological blinders. What I do know is that you cannot trust Reasons to Believe.
I can't add much to that.

1Goodman, Morris (1992) “Reconstructing Human Evolution from Proteins,” in Steve Jones, Robert Martin, and David Pilbeam, eds., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 307–13.

Now playing: Renaissance - The Sisters
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Todd Wood on Parallel Cultures

One of Todd Wood's readers asked him to comment on my post about the Barna Group’s results in which I opined that the problem was not with historical Christianity, but with modern evangelical Christianity, which I see as walling itself off from modern society, especially in its understanding of science. Here is a bit of what he writes:
I'm not entirely sure whether he's concerned about the very idea of a "parallel culture" itself or the quality of the evangelical culture. As for developing our own parallel cultures, I would point to the monastic culture (especially medieval monasteries) as an example from a different Christian faith tradition. A crucial difference between the medieval monastery and the modern evangelical culture is that the monastic culture was compelling and appealing to people. As I understand it (and I admit that I'm no historian), the monasteries were important sources of learning and scholarship, and to some extent helped to preserve learning through the "Dark Ages." I think especially of St. Columba's monastery on Iona, which was instrumental in Christianizing Scotland through the power of learning. (I'm going to stop talking about monasteries now before I reveal any more of my ignorance.)
It is quite true that the monasteries were very important for learning and did preserve much of the knowledge that had been passed down from their predecessors. But the monasteries were doing so largely in the absence of, and prior to, the explosion of modern science. Further, they weren't competing with the culture of the time, they were providing a completely different outlook and way of life. The modern evangelical movement, in contrast, is providing its own brand of politics, culture and science in almost exactly the same model as secular society but with a Christian basis. Where the wheels fall off the wagon (and Dr. Wood and I differ profoundly on this issue), is in the (largely) evangelical Christian interpretation of modern science, which is tied to a very strict biblical hermeneutic that dictates a 6,000 year-old creation and further, that evolution as characterized by modern evolutionary biologists, has never happened. There is little to no mainstream scientific evidence to support this interpretation of scientific findings and mountains of evidence to the contrary.

The evangelical community has fought the mainstream interpretations of modern science tooth and nail to the point where those of us that accept them are called “unbiblical.” Further, we get called that by people who have no training in modern science at all.

Dr. Wood has a short section in which he examines the Christian culture that has arisen in parallel. He argues (and I largely agree) that modern evangelical Christianity is reactive in the sense that we parrot modern, secular society and do not do it well. He further notes that this is the reason that so many leave the faith in their late teens or early twenties. Anecdotally (and I have a pretty small sample size) it does seem that those that hang on to their faith through these years hit modern culture head on instead of avoiding it.

I have always been of the (myopic) opinion that one of the key reasons that people in the their late teens or early twenties leave the faith is because they hit an understanding of how the world works, scientifically, and it conflicts with what they have been taught, usually from home school curricula. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps this is only one small part of a greater whole that we, as Christians, are not addressing. I know the challenge of raising children in a Christian home firsthand and some of my children will soon be entering their adolescent years where that struggle will become evident. I can only pray that the Holy Spirit gives us the guidance to be able to provide an attractive alternative to a completely secular culture.

Lastly, Dr. Wood writes:
What I want, and what this blog has always been about, is to improve what we have. Instead of constantly tossing potshots at evolutionary biology, we need to put up or shut up. If creationism is so much better than conventional science, where's our explanation of the pattern of radioisotopes? Or distant starlight? Or the near identity of the human and chimp genomes? And why aren't we working on answers to these questions? Why are people settling for just explaining the problems away with philosophical tricks or just distracting people from the problems by pretending like everyone else has much worse problems? Take the beam out of your own eye before you pick out the speck from someone else's. That was good advice 2000 years ago, and it's good advice today.
He is absolutely correct. And herein lies a large problem. Recently, when Dr. Wood took on Reasons to Believe's interpretation of the human/chimp genome and showed where they were wrong (and not trustworthy), a good many people who are not, to my knowledge, Christians cited this exchange quite positively, even knowing that Dr. Wood is a professed young-earth creationist. Why? Because it was about the only time in recent memory in which the secular data was examined and interpreted by someone from that point of view with complete scientific integrity.

Beginning with George MacReady Price's The New Geology, in 1923 and continuing down to the present day, the evangelical movement has made a complete hash of science. Even worse, there is a persistent evidence that those promoting this view do not even seek to get things correct. To turn the phrase that Dr. Wood used, if I hear one more evangelical non-scientist say “there are no transitional fossils” I just might scream!

Examples abound in which scientific data is skewed or twisted in such a way as to support the young earth model when, in its original form, it did exactly the opposite (Randy Isaac's response to the RATE volumes is, perhaps the best example). This leaves a very bad taste in the mouth of your average scientist.

This is a bad witness.

This is part of the reason this blog exists. Non-Christians need to know that we can confront the data in an honest fashion. If we seek to reach out to those with scientific inclinations for the cause of Christ, we must treat the data with integrity, even if it leads us down a road that we have never been down before.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Rapids
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

World Magazine on the Barna Group Results

World Magazine has an article on the Barna Group results that adds a dimension:
Although Christians have a reputation for being anti-science, the scientific field is brimming with Christian thinkers, Peter Walhout, Wheaton's department chair and associate professor of physical chemistry, said.

"No serious Christian or scholar would ever study Christianity and its history and say it's anti-science," he said.

Many early scientists actively participated in church. Nicolas Copernicus held an office in the Catholic Church, and he was encouraged to publish his research on the planets' orbit system by high-ranking church officials. Isaac Newton, another devout believer, claimed that the laws of physics and the universe were dependant upon an intelligent designer. And the revered physicist Albert Einstein was motivated to investigate the laws of the universe by his faith in a Creator.

"I want to know how God created this world," he said.

Walhout suggested anyone wishing to express to unbelievers the amity between Christianity and science should capitalize on evidence from history.
The problem is not with historical Christianity. It is with modern evangelical Christianity, a movement that came out of the fundamentalism of the early 1900s and that has, largely, abandoned conventional scientific pursuits or results. It is this group that is largely “anti-science.” In a recent article in the New York Times (yes, I am going to quote it just this once), Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens, about modern evangelical Christianity's response to science, write:
In response, many evangelicals created what amounts to a “parallel culture,” nurtured by church, Sunday school, summer camps and colleges, as well as publishing houses, broadcasting networks, music festivals and counseling groups. Among evangelical leaders, Ken Ham, David Barton and James C. Dobson have been particularly effective orchestrators — and beneficiaries — of this subculture.
It is this “parallel culture” that has become the de facto culture of home school curricula, evangelical churches and Christian colleges. This is the result of what Mark Noll called “The Intellectual Catastrophe of Fundamentalism.” This is not Christianity as it is practiced in either the Catholic or Eastern churches and, in many ways, it is a Christianity that is unique to the United States. It is also a Christianity that I am profoundly uncomfortable with and am becoming more so every day. One of my friends recently wrote this to me:
The academic study of Scripture does not teach people that faith is stupid; rather, that study seeks to elucidate the faiths contained in Scripture as rigorously as possible.
It is this faith and the rich tradition that is behind it that the modern evangelical church has lost.

Now playing: Steve Hackett - Dreaming With Open Eyes
via FoxyTunes

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Barna Group Reports on: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

The Barna Group, which describes itself as a “private, non-partisan, for-profit organization” has done a survey on 1296 current and former church-goers between the ages of 18 and 29 and has identified six primary reasons why young people leave church. They are:
  • churches seem overprotective
  • Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  • Churches come across as antagonistic to science
  • Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental
  • They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity and
  • The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt
Regarding the fourth item, the one that (obviously) caught my attention, they write:
Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, authors of the book Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It, have a different take on things. Writes one reviewer of the book:
Their research concludes that “Sunday school syndrome” is contributing to the epidemic rather than helping alleviate it. Sunday School tends to focus on inspiration and morality of Bible stories, rather than how to defend the authority of the Bible. The “Bible stories” told in Sunday school are separated from “hard facts.” As a result, children will turn to school books for facts and answers, instead of the Bible. Already Gone argues that if a child is unable to defend the historicity and fact of Genesis, then he or she will quickly be disillusioned with the church. “Ultimately, if we are unable to defend Genesis, we have allowed the enemy to attack our Christian faith and undermine the very first book of the Bible,” the book says.
I have always marveled at the fact that so much emphasis is placed on this one book of the Bible at the expense of the rest of it (including the Gospel). Ham, himself writes:
The research also showed that those young people (the two thirds group) who went to Sunday school were—surprisingly—more likely to have heard a Christian leader (pastor, Sunday school teacher, and so on) tell them they could believe in evolution and millions of years. We also found those in this group that they were more spiritually worse off than those who didn’t go to Sunday school and were more inclined to accept abortion and “gay” marriage.
I have not read this book (not sure if I could, actually) so I do not know what other questions were asked. It seems to me that a comparison between those that went to Sunday school and were exposed to “evolutionary” teaching and those that went to Sunday school and were not would be in order. I bet they would not be statistically significantly different. The message of the Barna Group, on the other hand, is that when students get to college, they find that the scientific leanings of their churches and perhaps parachurch organizations ill-prepared them for school and scientific disciplines.

In contrast to Ken Ham, Richard Colling writes:
Twenty-first-century college students are a savvy and discerning lot: They can smell a fraud a mile away. My experience is that they do not want to be “protected” from the realities of the world. They genuinely appreciate Christian educators who respect and care enough about them to speak the transparent truth regarding controversial subjects like evolution. In short, they want and deserve the real stuff including everything that modern biology and genetics can teach them about evolution and origins. Then, armed with actual factual knowledge and understanding, they can intelligently make up their own minds how to put it all together, and just as importantly, defend their faith in a secular unbelieving culture. My experience is that they accomplish things very well – resulting in a stronger more resilient personal faith.
I think that too many of them are smelling the fraud of “creation science.”

Now playing: Steve Hackett - Pieds En L'Air
via FoxyTunes