Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A 'Modern Population Bottleneck?'

NPR has a story on the (almost) disappearance of modern humans here. It is not a hypothesis that I had heard of before. Robert Krulwich writes:
Once upon a time, says Sam [Kean], around 70,000 B.C., a volcano called Toba, on Sumatra, in Indonesia went off, blowing roughly 650 miles of vaporized rock into the air. It is the largest volcanic eruption we know of, dwarfing everything else...That eruption dropped roughly six centimeters of ash — the layer can still be seen on land — over all of South Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian and South China Sea. According to the Volcanic Explosivity Index, the Toba eruption scored an "8", which translates to "mega-colossal" — that's two orders of magnitude greater than the largest volcanic eruption in historic times at Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which caused the 1816 "Year Without a Summer" in the northern hemisphere.
Although this is a provative hypothesis, it does not match modern genetic studies. Dennis Venema writes:
Studies based on SNP/LD approaches have now estimated ancestral population dynamics for various human groups over time in more detail than is possible with mutation-based estimates. African groups have a higher effective population size (~7,000) than do non-African groups (~3,000) over the last 200,000 years. This approach, though based on methods and assumptions independent of previous work, nonetheless continues to support the conclusion that humans, as a species, are descended from an ancestral population of at least several thousand individuals. More importantly, the scalability of this approach reveals that there was no significant change in human population size at the time modern humans appeared in the fossil record (~200,000 years ago), or at the time of significant cultural and religious development at ~50,000 years ago.
When the first mtDNA studies began to come out in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they all supported the recent African evolution of modern humans and they all came to the same general conclusion: that modern humans had originated in sub-Saharan Africa between 140 and 280 thousand years ago. The earliest fossil evidence we have for modernity in Africa are the Herto remains at 160,000, at the site of Bouri, in the Afar Triangle. These remains bear more than a passing similarity to the modern Skhul 4 and 9 remains from the Israeli site of Skhul (dated at around 100,000) and suggest a general northern migration of these populations.

The other problem is that this does not correspond to a die-out of Neandertals either. The Neandertals didn't go away until around 30,000 and interbred with the incoming moderns anyway. Indeed, it looks as if the incoming moderns simply swamped the Neandertal genome and assimilated them. It is hard to do this if you have a very small effective population size.

I have not read this book so he may have counters for all of these arguments but I would be really curious to know what they are.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Yet Another "Beside the Point" Post From the Discovery Institute

Michael Flannery pens yet another tiring post about the theology of Charles Darwin, as if, somehow, the religious persuasions of Darwin have any bearing on evolutionary theory.  He writes:
Darwin frequently claimed to be in a theological muddle. He often assumed this posture in letters to close friends and colleagues. But when it came to taking a stand on religion, the separation of the Atlantic Ocean seemed to have emboldened him. This is evident in his staunch support of American freethinker Francis Abbot (1836-1903), founder of the Free Religious Association and editor of its radical weekly voice, The Index. In the December 23, 1871, issue Darwin gave a rare and unequivocal glimpse of his religious beliefs. Responding to Abbot's radical manifesto Truths for the Times, he wrote that he admired Abbot's "truths" "from my inmost heart; and I agree to almost every word," adding, "The points on which I doubtfully differ are unimportant." So what exactly were those "truths" to which Darwin gave his complete -- even passionate -- approval?
It is fairly well known that Darwin rejected the idea of a personal savior due, in large part to the death of his beloved daughter Anna.  Darwin made no secret of this and no secret of the fact that he thought that intelligence and religious understanding had evolved.  Flannery continues:
Darwin's secular humanism and radical materialism was no late additions to his thinking either. In the spring of 1838, long before he had unveiled his theory to the world, Darwin asked in his private notebook, "Why is thought, being a secretion of brain, more wonderful than gravity a property of matter? It is our arrogance, it is our admiration of ourselves." Ironically, by dethroning god Darwin committed the greatest hubris of all: admiring only his theory and pacing his faith in man.

In light of this there would seem to be only three choices for theistic evolutionists. First, simply accept the incompatibility -- learn to live with the contradictory idea that a God of purpose and intentionality has created and sustained a universe of (in John Herschel's famous phrase) "higgledy-piggledy." After all, God can do what He wills.
His other two options are humanism and nihilism.

This is nonsense. Albert Einstein contributed more to the study of relativity and quantum physics than anybody before or since. Yet we know that, despite his belief in a higher power, he also rejected a personal God. Should all physicists adopt his theological perspectives as well? Of course not. His theological views are divorced from his studies in physics, just like our study of evolutionary biology have no bearing on our theological views, unless it is to show us the grandeur and inventiveness of God's creation. Some who accept evolution are Christians, some are deists, and some are atheists, just as there are some of each that practice physics.

He closes with this gem:
But then why trust the theory that emanated from Darwin's mind any more than those of a monkey's? Whether it's his theory of evolution or his ideas about god that emanate from it, the monkey is still on Darwin's back.
Aside from being insulting, I wonder if Mr. Flannery is aware that the idea of natural selection was co-authored by Alfred Russel Wallace. Would he also fit Wallace into his thinking?  Furthermore, I wonder if he is aware of the 150 years of evolutionary research that have not only corroborated Darwin's and Wallace's theoretical constructs but extended them to include population mathematics, genetics, biogeography and a whole host of disciplines.  Probably not.  Like David Klinghoffer and David Berlinski, also from the Discovery Institute, he seems trapped in the late 1800s. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Off Topic: Perilous

I just picked up a (signed) copy of Glass Hammer's new CD Perilous.  After two listens through, I think it is as good as their last two, If and Cor Cordium but it is very different, having shorter song construction.  Good mystical Christian prog rock. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Plea From Dennis Venema

Dennis Venema, who has written many good posts for BioLogos has written an article for the Colossian Forum titled “What I Would Like To Hear A Young-Earth Creationist Say.”  Rather than wax scientifically, he focuses, instead, on the things that we should have in common:
...the most important thing I would like to hear a YEC say to someone of my views isn’t a scientific statement at all – it’s a statement of unity in Christ. It’s the simple “brother” or “sister” that says – “we’re both part of the same family.” Even if we disagree on the mechanism of creation, affirming our unity in Christ needs to be the starting point for the conversation.
For those of us who are Evolutionary creationists/theistic evolutionists, he writes about a hypothetical conversation which, for some of us, is a constant fear:
“So, what do you do for work?”
“I’m a biologist. I teach up at the local Christian university.”

“Oh, really? You must really love the work that (insert the individual’s favorite anti-evolution ministry) does. It’s so good to have Christians like you who fight against evolution.” 

“Well, actually…”
 I have many friends in church to which I dare not bring up the evolution/creation debate.  I remember when one of of my friends from Bible Study was looking at my poster of the Tower of Time, a small version of the one by John Gurche that hung in the Smithsonian for years.  She remarked "How can you believe any of this?"  Implicit in her comment that was the poster represented an anti-God, anti-biblical  view of the world.  How do you bring someone like my friend, who had little to no scientific background, up to speed on the evidence.  Even if you could, would it matter?

Venema suggests (and I agree) that this issue should always be of secondary importance to the call of Christ and the unity that we should feel and express with each other:
So, to my YEC brothers and sisters, I would make this request. Without minimizing the importance of the exegetical issues that the creation/evolution controversy raises, let’s first and foremost sit at the Lord’s table and break bread together, recognizing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and members of the same body. Those of us who see things from an EC perspective may need to repent of belittling our YEC brothers and sisters as scientifically ignorant or theologically naive. Those of a YEC perspective may need to repent of condemning their EC brothers and sisters as “compromisers” or theologically liberal.
I confess that belittling is easy to do and that is where the problem lies. It is too easy to do that and not to see the unity in Christ. We enjoy arguments and we enjoy disagreements. It gets the blood flowing and the dander up. But at some point, we have to see beyond that. Are the Christians that espouse the YEC viewpoint going to heaven? Yup. Are those of us that are EC going to heaven. I certainly believe so.

Having said all of this, we do have a responsibility to honestly treat the evidence that we encounter and to learn about God's creation from it. That does not change. To point out the variances from this is a worthy cause, but we should never believe that those who espouse those positions are not saved by grace, because, when the dust settles, we are all in need of that. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Going on Vacation

I am going on vacation with the family for the week so probably will not be able to post anything.  Keep checking NCSE, BioLogos and Panda's Thumb as well as others that may come to mind.

Wouldn't You Like To Be A Pepper Too?

Another brouhaha has erupted, this time over a Dr. Pepper commercial on Facebook that features someone becoming more human after encountering Dr. Pepper.  Here is the ad.

Here is what Time Magazine had to say:
This is, of course, still the Internet — so plenty of comments in question are loaded with snark from people who mainly appear to be provoking for the sake of provocation. Several commenters, however, expressed disapproval of Dr. Pepper — believing, apparently, that the ad showed support for the scientific theory of evolution — and vowing to boycott the product. “I ain’t no freaking chimp. No more Dr Pepper for my household. God Bless y’all,” one user wrote. Another chimed in with, “I have lost all respect for Dr Pepper and if Dr Pepper wants business from thousands of people they will need to apologize.”
Yahoo had this observation:
One person wrote, "I love Dr Pepper but hate this photo. Forget evolution." Another person wrote, "Well, there goes my support for this company." It's unclear how many of the entries were sarcastic, but the post now has more than 3,000 comments, with most of them debating evolution. Among those supporting evolution were people encouraging everyone to calm down. One person wrote, "It's just a joke. People gotta lighten up and just live life."
Ya Think?????

Is It My Imagination...

...or is the ID community slowly abandoning the fossil record as being unfruitful in promoting their arguments?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Another Republican Congressman Beclowns Himself

The Associated Press is reporting on a speech given by Georgia congressman Paul Broun, who is quoted as saying:
“God's word is true,” Broun said, according to a video posted on the church's website. “I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
Evidently, he was also quoted as believing that the earth is around 9 000 years old and was made in six days.

The truly scary thing about this is that he has a post on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. How does someone this scientifically stupid get on a committee like that?? Once again, this calls for some kind of rudimentary test of basic science knowledge and understanding to weed people out before they are appointed to these kinds of committees. In any sort of formal discourse, he will be next to useless because he doesn't accept the basic tenets of so many different scientific theories.

It is yet another example of a Republican congressman demonstrating for all to see that his education in science has completely failed him.

It is also an example of the narrow mindedness of modern fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, a movement that seeks to divorce itself from any deep historical roots or modern academic understandings of the world in which it finds itself.  I am reminded of what Bruce Waltke said about this movement:
“If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult ... some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God's Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness,...”

Friday, October 05, 2012

Hominin Meat Eating As Early As 1.5 Mya

Science Daily has a story detailing evidence that early hominins (and by this I mean probably Homo habilis or Homo ergaster) eat meat.  Although it is almost in the form of negative evidence. They write:
The two-inch skull fragment was found at the famed Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania, a site that for decades has yielded numerous clues into the evolution of modern humans and is sometimes called `the cradle of mankind.'

The fragment belonged to a 2-year-old child and showed signs of porotic hyperostosis associated with anemia. According to the study, the condition was likely caused by a diet suddenly lacking in meat.

"The presence of anemia-induced porotic hyperostosis…indicates indirectly that by at least the early Pleistocene meat had become so essential to proper hominin functioning that its paucity or lack led to deleterious pathological conditions," the study said.
This is common in dietarily compromised populations today.The general consensus is that hominins' brains expanded when they began incorporating meat into their diet, although it has been commonly thought that that did not occur until Homo erectus, for which there is direct evidence of hunting. 

Monday, October 01, 2012