Friday, May 31, 2013

Nick Wing: Louisiana Lawmakers Just Can't Quit Creationism, Kill Repeal Of Unconstitutional Anti-Science Law

HuffPo has been sounding the drums recently with regard to evolution and, with states like Louisiana, they have a large target.  Nick Wing writes:
In the most recent sign that Louisiana lawmakers aren't keen on fully embracing the teaching of evolution in state schools, members of the House Education Committee voted Wednesday to kill an effort to remove an obsolete and unconstitutional pro-creationism law from the books.

Louisiana's Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act has existed in state statutes since 1981, despite being ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1987 as a violation of the First Amendment. The law forbade public schools from teaching evolution unless "creation science" was in the curriculum as well. Members of the the state Senate Committee on Education voted earlier this month to advance a measure to do away with it, but their colleagues in the state House apparently didn't agree with the move.

State House members voted Wednesday to remove the amendment to Senate Bill 205 that would have officially dispatched with the Balanced Treatment Act.
This smacks of a protest vote. They can't have creationism, which they really want, so they protest that by not removing the law from the books. What is truly amazing about this is that it is the education committee that voted to kill the repeal.  Aren't these the people that are supposed to know good science education when they see it?  How can there be that many scientifically-illiterate people in one place? 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Palaeoanthropology For Free!

Jean-Jacques Hublin, one of the most well-respected palaeoanthropologists has written a short piece for Nature News on the state of access to biophysical data.  He writes:
Being refused the right to examine a sought-after specimen is a common experience in the professional life of a palaeoanthropologist. Too often I have heard in the back rooms of museums that “nobody can find the key to the Neanderthal's cabinet”, “the fossil is away on exhibition” or “it is currently being reconstructed”. Human fossils that make international celebrities of their discoverers are difficult to find in geological strata, but they can become unreachable relics when they are in storage.
Been there, done that. It is no fun. Milford Wolpoff wrote once upon a time that he was allowed to see the Bodo face and partial cranium only under the conditions that he was not allowed to take pictures or measurements of it. He wrote (paraphrased) that he was surpised that it was "not facing the wall, out of respect."  But things have changed.  Hublin continues:
The release online earlier this week of a large series of palaeoanthropological data — produced by my department from the hominin collection of the Kromdraai B site near Johannesburg, South Africa — is an important new step (; see also M. M. Skinner et al. J. Hum. Evol. 64, 434447; 2013). This collaboration between the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History in Pretoria and the MPI-EVA makes images and three-dimensional surface models of each Kromdraai specimen freely accessible. Highlights include the type specimen of Paranthropus robustus first described in 1938, as well as some never-published specimens. Researchers can also download the microCT data through a password-protected system controlled by curators of the Ditsong Museum. To move forward, the field requires such offerings to become more widespread.
One can only hope that this will be seen as a model for others to follow with regard to the data. It is clear that, when one plows through the three volume set by Oakley (and other volumes that have come out since) there is a veritable ton of material to process but in this day and age, it would be an incredible boon to researchers and would vastly expand the field.When Bill Howells went around the world measuring modern human crania and publishing it, when it became computationally feasible, he turned the entire collection loose on the world.  I, along with countless other Ph.D. students, used it in my dissertation. 

Archaic Homo sapiens in East Asia, Part 2

My second BioLogos post on Archaic Homo sapiens in East Asia is up.

New BioLogos Post is Up!

My newest BioLogos post on Archaic Homo sapiens in East Asia is up.  Comments welcome both here and there.  I think Part Two is scheduled for sometime today.  It looks like they included all of the citations in Part Two.  Next on the list is the one on Neandertals.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Victor Stenger on the Ball State Controversy

Victor Stenger has written a HuffPo article on why Eric Hedin's classes should be canceled.  Before we go into this, it should be pointed out that Stenger's views fit very comfortably with those of Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and Sam Harris.  His books include God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist and God and the Atom: From Democritus to the Higgs Boson.  In short, he has no use for religion of any sort.  In his column, he writes:
In his April 25 blog Why Evolution is True, University of Chicago biology professor Jerry Coyne revealed that Hedin is using science as a guise for promoting his personal, fundamentalist Christian world-view. This is clearly evident from the course syllabus and is confirmed by students' comments and a perusal of his reading list.
The course includes scientific-sounding but highly dubious arguments for the existence of God and promotes intelligent design, miracles, and spirituality. The authors on the book list are almost all Christian apologists without a single dissenting view represented.
Hedin's reading list is headed by Michael Behe, the author of Darwin's Black Box (1998), which has been thoroughly refuted, and includes all the other cohorts of intelligent design as well as Christian apologists who are not scientists. There is no entry from any proponent of evolution or atheism. Hedin promotes notions that, for the most part, have as much honest scientific support as a flat Earth
As I mentioned in the last post: Does it focus on ID? Sure does. Does it include some scientifically dubious books in the reading list? Sure does. What is not evident is a fundamentalist Christian world-view.  I have not taken the course.  Neither have the people that wrote in and commented on Coyne's site.  There are other reasons that this vitriol is misplaced, however.  For one thing, it is an elective, which means that nobody has to take it.  People that are taking it are doing so because they want to.  Here is the course description:
In this course, we will examine the nature of the physical and the living world with the goal of increasing our appreciation of the scope, wonder, and complexity of physical reality. We will also investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life. This course is designed to allow students to take a more in-depth look at the beauty and complexity of the universe and life and to give food for thought about deeper questions which remain central to human existence.
Yes, he does get into trouble with the Intelligent design books but there are other books there that don't toe that line. Are atheist books missing? It sure seems that they are. Would they be appropriate in this kind of course? Probably. It seems that he has chosen not to go that route, as is his prerogative. I am surprised and somewhat amused that both PZ Myers and Larry Moran (Sandwalk) have gone on record as saying that it is his choice to teach this if he wants to and people should butt out. Stenger and Coyne do not agree.  They argue that Hedin in teaching a patently false view of the universe.  I would challenge them to demonstrate that.  Stenger's logical error is especially egregious, given that he has argued that science can show the non-existence of God.  Science can do no such thing.

I tend to agree with Myers and Moran. I am no supporter of ID but it seems that people are getting some differing views, if not the atheist one.That a religious view is being vaguely promoted at all is what burns Stenger and Coyne up. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Meanwhile, Over in "Oiho"

The Dayton Daily News is covering the goings on of the Springboro School Board, which is in the news yet again, and is locked in a tussle with some parents and the ACLU over the inclusion of creationism in the county school curriculum.  Lawrence Budd writes:
Local parents and the American Civil Liberties Union urged the Springboro school board on Thursday to abandon plans to pass policies inserting creationism and other religious issues into local classrooms.

Parents, teachers and students crowded a board meeting at Springboro High School where the board sought comments on policy changes including creation and evolution in a list of controversial issues.

Lynn Greenberg said the renewed consideration of bringing creationism into classrooms was just the latest controversy diverting attention from educating Springboro students.

“We’re being defined by our issues and not our accomplishments,” said Greenberg, a parent.
This kind of thing seems to be playing out in quite a few venues across the country and, with the advent of the Internet and the instant news cycle, it is likely that these events, which have probably been going on all the time, are now brought to our attention.  It does not help that the recent spate of "academic freedom" bills at the state level has given these school boards cover to attempt imposing not just ID but creationism at a local level.  The ability to shine a national spotlight on these sorts of debates, however, does make it hard for another Dover to occur.  In that case, the local school board was counting on people not paying attention.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ball State Makes the Front Page

USA Today is carrying a story about a professor at Ball State that is, apparently, teaching creationism in science class.  Originally from the Star Press of Muncie, Indiana, the article, written by Seth Slabaugh, has this to say:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose mission is to act as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the principle of separation of state and church, filed an objection to Eric Hedin's teaching.

In a letter to BSU President Jo Ann Gora, the group claims Hedin's "Boundaries of Science" Honors College class "takes your school motto, 'Education Redefined,' too far."

"BSU appears to offer a class that preaches religion, yet gives students honors science credit," foundation attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Gora. "BSU appears to have a class with a non-biologist undermining genuine science and scholarship of the Ball State biology department by teaching creationism, a religious belief ... masquerading as science."
If he were teaching these subjects in the context of differing perspectives on origins and creation along with mainstream scientific viewpoints, then the course would probably earn its name. Such would only be the case if the problems of these perspectives were pointed out, however. According to Jerry Coyne, however, that is not what is happening:
"All the books are by creationists, IDers (intelligent designers), or people who try to show that science gives evidence for God," evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago, told The Star Press, referring to the bibliography for Hedin's course. "There are no straight science books."

It appears Hedin "presents a non-view of science in a science class," said Coyne, author of the book "Why Evolution is True."

"The students are being duped. It's straight theology with no alternatives. It's a straight Christian intelligent design/creationist view of the world, which is wrong. It's not science. It's not that it's not science, it's science that has been discredited. It's like saying the Holocaust didn't happen."
First, there is not a single book by what is commonly known as a "creationist" on the list that Coyne produces in his blog.  Some are ID, quite a few are theistic evolution in bent and some address the fact that there exist components of life beyond science.  It would be more appropriate to call the course "theological ruminations on science," or some such thing but it is pretty clear that nobody is being taught young earth creationism.  I think the charge of undermining genuine science might have some merit with regard to the ID books, but given the reputation of people like Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, Nigel Brush and Roger Penrose, it is pretty hard to argue that genuine science isn't being taught at all.  It might be taught in a philosophical arena, with musings on the ultimate questions of life's origins and things like that but there is nothing necessarily inappropriate about that.   It seems to me that the professor wants his students to try to think beyond the realm of science to address ultimate causes.  It is not clear, in the least, that he "wants his students to believe in Jesus."

In this case, it appears that Coyne has a case of the vapors only because he can't stand religion of any kind.  It sounds like a fun course to take.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Critical Thinking" and "Intelligent Design" Bills Fail To Make It Out of Committee in Missouri

The Missouri State legislature failed to move on several bills, letting them die in committee.  The first one would have promoted "critical thinking" and allowed for opposing views and discussion of "differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution."  Here is the text of the bill, HB-179.

The second one, HB 291, is no better, since it specifically supports the teaching of ID.  It is somewhat dishonestly called the "Missouri Science Standard Act," since it carries no provisions for any scientific disciplines other than evolutionary theory.  If critical thinking is desired, why don't we apply it to all scientific disciplines?  How is it that all of the rest of science has gotten it right and the evolutionists have gotten it wrong?  Equally maddening is that all of the topics covered in the language of the bill (lack of transitional forms, irreducible complexity, reuse of proven designs) have been discredited by mainstream science.  The people promoting these bills either don't care or can't be bothered to learn any of the science involved.

Once again, more badly thought-out legislation sponsored by Republicans who don't know any better.

Hat tip to Robert Luhn. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Addendum to Kentucky Junk Science

Here is the complete text of the section of the Kentucky state law (KS 158.177) that is quoted in the story from Leo Weekly:
158.177 Teaching of evolution -- Right to include Bible theory of creation.
(1) In any public school instruction concerning the theories of the creation of man and the earth, and which involves the theory thereon commonly known as evolution, any teacher so desiring may include as a portion of such instruction the theory of creation as presented in the Bible, and may accordingly read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation, thereby affording students a choice as to which such theory to accept.
(2) For those students receiving such instruction, and who accept the Bible theory of creation, credit shall be permitted on any examination in which adherence to such theory is propounded, provided the response is correct according to the instruction received.
(3) No teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational religious belief.
(4) This section is not to be construed as being adverse to any decision which has been rendered by any court of competent jurisdiction.
Effective: July 13, 1990
History: Repealed and reenacted 1990 Ky. Acts ch. 476, Pt. V, sec. 403, effective July 13, 1990. -- Created 1976 Ky. Acts ch. 261, sec. 1.
It is the last part of the statute that really rattles my cage. This means that, if a school child takes a quiz like the one that was given at that South Carolina private school, they get full credit for it as far as the state is concerned. How is that credible on any level.

Interestingly, if you will recall, the University of Southern California refused to accept the credits of a student who was instructed in just this way.  The parents sued the state and lost.  

P.S., The father that pointed out the quiz that his daughter took is yanking her out of that school.

Enact a basic science test
Enact a basic science test
Enact a basic science test 

Biologos Survey of Pastors

Biologos contracted with the Barna Group to conduct a survey on the views of origins expressed by pastors. 
What they discovered is that, out of 743 pastors interviewed over the phone, 19% are hard-core young earth creationists while 35% "lean" that way.  7% are progressive creationists, with 8% leaning and 15% leaned toward theistic evolution with 3% hard core.  12% listed their view as "uncertain."

Most of the findings are straightforward and what you would expect.  They are afraid that the disagreements with science are harming our witness, and most are concerned about evolution. One of the findings was that pastors weren't avoiding science:
The majority of pastors think that addressing issues of science for their congregations is an important part of their work. Of those surveyed, 72% felt that addressing science issues in the local community was somewhat (51%) or very (21%) urgent. When asked about science on a national and global level, even more pastors felt that addressing science issues is important (43% somewhat and 46% very).
But it does not appear that they are attempting to learn more about it. While a sample size of one, the level of scientific understanding expressed by Ken Ham is minimal, at best. Even my paster, it is clear, is not familiar with modern evolutionary concepts. If they are representative of pastors as a whole, it will be a long, hard road ahead.  Read the whole thing. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Junk Science" From Kentucky

From the land that gave us the Creation Museum, we now have a bold, public attempt to teach creationism in the public schools of Louisville.  Joe Sonka of LEO Weekly writes:
A new group of Christian educators in Louisville conducted a unique training session for Jefferson County Public Schools teachers last Thursday inside the auditorium of The Gheens Academy for Curricular Excellence and Instructional Leadership. The group’s ultimate goal: spreading their faith to public school students.
This is probably controversial from a church/state point of view but that is not what got my interest. He continues:
While the event wasn’t sanctioned by JCPS — LACES rented out the space — speakers included Kirk Lattimore, assistant superintendent for academic achievement, and Bryce Hibbard, Southern High School principal.

Hibbard and other speakers told the teachers present that it was perfectly acceptable under Kentucky law to teach biblical creationism in addition to evolution in science classes, and he suggested future meetings with biology teachers to craft curriculum.

“I taught biology for 20 years in this state and didn’t know that if evolution is part of the curriculum, that I could have been teaching creation,” Hibbard said. “I thought I was sneaky if I had the kids … present it. So it was presented in my classroom by the kids, but I could have been doing it and didn’t know that.”
This remark is followed by a stunning display of lack of scientific knowledge:
Principal Hibbard told LEO that while he would not order his science teachers to promote or discuss biblical creationism, he would not discourage it and has let them understand they are allowed to do so under Kentucky law. When asked if such biblical lessons in science class — taking time away from learning actual science — would stunt the academic growth of students, Hibbard replied that it would not, as creationism is “just another theory.”

“Certainly, that’s what (creationism) is,” Hibbard said. “A theory is a scientific understanding of what we know today. So evolution is a theory. Creation is a theory. Intelligent design is a theory. The theory of relativity is a theory. Yeah.”
So, instead of teaching modern science, we are going to teach modern gnosticism.  We have heard this before. It began with Ronald Reagan's pronouncement that evolution was "only a theory." modern-day creationists pounce on the misunderstanding of theory and run as far with it as they can.  To equate a testable framework such as evolutionary theory with young earth creationism is laughable.  The fact that the only aspects of the YEC model that do lend themselves to testability get blown out of the water every time doesn't seem to matter.  People like Hibbard won't take the time (despite the fact that the qualifications of their job demand it) to learn this.

This is probably the only instance in which I think that a top-down approach must be taken.  A basic science test must be in force to weed out the people the run for school boards or education committees that obviously can't even define basic scientific concepts like "theory." 

A Catechism of Creation

I found this by way of a Pete Enns article on episcopalian attitudes toward science.  It is a catechism that integrates the scriptures with the world around us.  A downloadable version of it is here.  Of creation, it has this to say:
Our creation faith is a Trinitarian faith: the Father, who is the Source of all that is, creates and upholds the creation, that is, the visible and invisible universe, through the Son, who is the pre-existent Word who speaks the universe into being, and in the life-giving, sustaining and renewing Spirit.
About Genesis 1:
Genesis 1 teaches that the one true God calls the universe into existence, and all of creation responds to God’s call. The creation has order and structure. It is transfigured and reveals God’s presence, but it is natural, not divine. It is dependent upon its Creator for its continuing existence and for all of the powers and capacities it possesses. Each element is declared to be good and the whole of it very good. Finally, Genesis 1 teaches that the Sabbath, God’s holy day of celebration and rest, is anchored in the act of creation.
It specifically deals with the concept of an evolving creation and, instead of recoiling from it and rejecting it, as those who follow young earth creationism have done, the idea has been embraced:
...When astronomers look out into space they look back in time. Thus, they are able to see our universe at many stages of cosmic evolution since its beginning in the Big Bang. Here on earth biologists, paleontologists, geneticists and other scientists are showing that life has evolved over four billion years, and are reconstructing evolution’s history. None of these scientific discoveries and the theories that explain them stands in conflict with what the Bible reveals about God’s relationship to the creation.
Conspicuously absent, however, is any mention of Adam and Eve and how we are to integrate the fall in the garden story into our understanding of an evolving creation. I have written them to see how they reconcile this. I will let you know what I find out. Although the official position of the Episcopalian church on evolution is that they don't have one, that they are open to the ideas implied by the scientific evidence is good.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Washington Post: Louisiana Supreme Court rules school voucher funding unconstitutional

It has happened as I feared.  The Louisiana state Supreme Court has ruled that the use of school vouchers to send kids to religious schools is unconstitutional.  Valerie Strauss writes:
The voucher program was part of a 2012 school reform program that allows the state to offer vouchers to more than half of Louisiana students, expand the number of privately managed charter schools and give letter grades to preschoolers. Opponents have called it nothing less than an assault on public education.

Some 5,000 students are using vouchers this year, even though 450,000 students were eligible, and about 8,000 were recently approved to get voucher money for next year. Many of the voucher students attend private Christian schools which use curriculum that promotes Young Earth Creationism, which holds the belief that the universe is no older than 10,000 years old despite definitive scientific evidence that it is billions of years old. Many of the schools teach things as fact that are actually fantasy, such as that humans co-existed with dinosaurs.
One can only wonder how much of a role that creationism had in this ruling but it is clear that it had some because of the work of Zack Kopplin, who tirelessly pointed out the use of the public money being used to teach creationism. So, a program that could have helped kids escape failed public schools and have a better chance at succeeding in life is ruined by the stinkweed of creationism.  What a tragedy. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

AIG: Intolerant Atheists Viciously Attack Christian School

In response to the publicity that the fourth grade science test got in Snopes recently, Answers in Genesis posted a rebuttal against "those intolerant atheists."  Ken Ham, himself, writes:
Today, we bring your attention to another attack on Christian education. A Christian K–12 school in South Carolina, with dedicated and highly qualified Christian teachers,1 has come under vicious attack by atheists. Why? Because one of its instructors, a fourth-grade teacher, tested her children about biblical creation, science, and dinosaurs (using AiG resources), and she has become (in)famous on many atheist websites and blogs.
It is not clear to me that she has become infamous on many atheist websites.  Many sites that aired the controversy are not atheist sites.  Like me, they simply cannot believe that this is being taught as science.  Ham is blanketly calling anyone who disagrees with the teaching of this in fourth grade as "atheist."  This is simply name-calling.  For the entire length of the response, however, there is never a question about the quality of the instruction, only the assertion that it is "the atheists" that want to remove the "biblical approach to dinosaurs."  He writes:
For the next two years, our special theme for the Answers in Genesis ministry is “Standing our Ground, Rescuing our Kids” (Galatians 1:4). We, too, have experienced recent increased attacks by atheists, especially whenever they discover we are influencing children with the truth of God’s Word. These anti-God people hate the fact that Christians are teaching children to stand on the authority of the Bible; they want to be the ones teaching children and indoctrinating them into atheism.
For Ken Ham, there is not the slightest possibility that a person can be a Christian and not accept this way of looking at scripture.What happens to these kids when they reach adolescence or adulthood and discover that he is wrong about how the universe is put together?  What then?  Will he feel responsible when they walk away from the faith? 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Evidence For Human Behavior Pushed Back

Science Daily is running a story on some research done at Kanjera, in Kenya.  According to the story:
The fossil evidence for hominin hunting is particularly compelling. The record shows that Oldowan hominins acquired and butchered numerous small antelope carcasses. These animals are well represented at the site by most or all of their bones from the tops of their head to the tips of their hooves, indicating to researchers that they were transported to the site as whole carcasses.

Many of the bones also show evidence of cut marks made when hominins used simple stone tools to remove animal flesh. Some bones also bear evidence that hominins used fist-sized stones to break them open to acquire bone marrow.

In addition, modern studies in the Serengeti--an environment similar to KJS two million years ago--have also shown that predators completely devour antelopes of this size within minutes of their deaths. As a result, hominins could only have acquired these valuable remains on the savanna through active hunting.
The site layers are around 2 million years old.  This pushes evidence for this back into the very earliest time period of early Homo, when you had two forms running around the landscape but some two to three hundred thousand years before you had Homo erectus.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Louisiana Chooses Badly, Again

According to the New Orlenans Times-Picayune, the bill to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act has failed to get out of committee.  Lauren McGaughy writes:
The Science Act allows teachers to introduce "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials" into the classroom. These materials are meant "to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner," according to the law.

While the Act specifically prohibits materials that promote religious doctrine, opponents of the legislation say the supplemental materials allowance gives teachers the ability to question accepted scientific theories, such as evolution, based on religious ideology.

"The LSE Act is a bad law, not because of its spirit, but because of its failure to provide the necessary restrictions, standards, and guidelines required in order for the original intent to be successfully realized," said Tammy Wood, a Zachary-area teacher who received the 1991 Louisiana Presidential Award for science education.
It is sad that this bill will continue to bedevil the state of Louisiana. Even more unfortunate, however, is the secondary piece of legislation that will further stigmatize Louisiana in the eyes of the science community and make it much easier to get creationism in the classrooms:
Speaking after the meeting, Wood said another piece of legislation that passed in committee Wednesday, House Bill 116, along with the Science Act would mean teaching materials that include religious doctrine would more easily make their way into classrooms.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, would remove much of the oversight the Department of Education has over textbooks purchased by schools. It would also eliminate current law that requires state-approved textbooks to be available for public inspection.
 What is the sense in this legislation, if not to further hide what is going on in Louisiana and to remove any sort of accountability for science standards.  This smacks of the actions of the Dover School Board which smuggled in copies of the dreadful Of Pandas and People in the dead of night, when nobody was looking in the hopes that nobody would notice.  This ended badly for Dover, at their considerable expense.  Hopefully, it won't get that far in Louisiana.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Dave Frayer: Who’re You Calling a Neanderthal?

Palaeoanthropologist Dave Frayer has written a nice piece in—yes, I know I said would not post from here but I have to, just this once—The New York Times, on the Neandertal in modern society. Interestingly, he uses the "th" spelling, which is uncommon among palaeoanthropologists who deal with this area.  He writes:
The “Neanderthals are inferior” attitude traces back to their earliest descriptions in the mid-1800s when the first Neanderthal was labeled as “freak” or an “idiot” or “incapable of moral and religious conception.” For many, the discoveries after 1865 confirmed these labels. Even the majority of human paleontologists supported this view.
As many palaeoanthropologists have pointed out, the principle reason for this is that they did not want to consider the fact that the Neandertals might be ancestral to modern humans.  Aside from mentioning the recent genetic studies that find Neandertal gene markers in modern humans, Frayer mentions something not explicated in recent news stories about Neandertals: language:
Another key to the language question is brain lateralization. Language is mostly on the left side, in the ear region. Someone who has suffered a stroke in this region often has impaired language ability, as well as paralysis on the right side of the body, because the left side of the brain controls that, too.

This lateralization is a hallmark of modern humans and is reflected in handedness. All humans have a right-hand-to-left-hand ratio of 9 to 1. Our nearest ape relatives lack this hand laterality, along with the modern FOXP2 sequence, but Neanderthals had both. Their 9-to-1 ratio was identical to all modern humans. The implication for all this is that Neanderthals could speak.
This is critically important to the idea of Neandertals being like us.  We often think of the hallmark of humanity is a fully-formed complex language that we do not share with other primates or prehistoric hominin species.  This is, it seems, in error.  As Frayer notes, there is no way to know what they talked about but it is clear that they did.  He finishes with an admonishment for all of us:
Neanderthals lived much richer lives than ever presumed. They were not exactly like us, but they bred with us and their genes and behavior are part of our heritage. So, be careful when you call someone a Neanderthal. You’re speaking about part of yourself.