Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is This Really a Good Idea?

Resurrecting the Giants: Wooly Mammoth DNA Successfully Inserted into Elephant Genetic Code

Apex Tribune is running a story about work out of Harvard to resurrect the wooly mammoth. The thing about evolution is that balanced is achieved in an ecosystem. This balance changes over time depending on environmental constraints but it always re-balances. Artificially introducing the wooly mammoth back into this mix would destabilize the ecosystem of the region.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Elizabeth Mitchell, David Menton and Andrew Snelling Take on the Ledi Jaw

As noted, the promised report from Answers in Genesis about the Ledi jaw (LD 350-1) is out.  Let's see what they say.  This is an interesting group of authors.  Andrew Snelling is the resident geologist, while David Menton is a former anatomist who wrote a truly terrible article on the evidence for human evolution, which I tackled over six long, straggly posts, ending here.  In it he, effectively, revealed that he has little to no knowledge of the fossil record.  I have read little of Elizabeth Mitchell's posts, other than the one in which she championed the evidence for unicorns in the Bible. 

The opening salvo in the “Lucy Connection” contains this:
An extinct knuckle-walking ape, “Lucy” is generally depicted strolling about East Africa 3 million years ago on her two supposedly arched feet with tiny teeth smiling from her gorilla-like face and tiny brain. That image has created an imaginary place for Australopithecus afarensis in the human lineage.
The initial problem with this paragraph is that there is no evidence to back up their depiction of Au. afarensis. The fossil remains that make up Au. afarensis, of which Lucy is a member, clearly indicate a hominin that was bipedal; that much is not debatable.  It carries none of the traits of an ape in this regard.  However, Au. afarensis does have some ape-like characteristics as well.  In fact, there are quite a list of traits that are Hominin and some that are ape-like.  I chronicled those here, in the fourth part of my response to Menton's 2010 article on human origins.  (Aside: It doesn't bother me that Menton didn't read my post, although Ken Ham knows I write for BioLogos because he referenced one of my posts for them.  It does bother me that Menton persistently mischaracterizes the transitional evidence in Au. afarensis, which is pretty hard to miss, if you are paying any attentional, whatsoever.)

Now, on to the jaw, itself, for which they get the account correct (Here is my short post for BioLogos on the jaw).  In fact, they report pretty much exactly what the discoverers and Fred Spoor determined about the jaw and the reconstruction of the related OH 7 skull. 

The the wheels fall off.

They write:
Could the Ledi jaw’s owner have been a transitional form? No. Evolutionists strain to see something ape-like in the array of Homo traits in the Ledi jaw because its position in the fossil record is so “far back” they think it must be their much sought-after transitional form. Since it lacks a protruding chin no one would suggest this fossil belonged to a modern human, but the lack thereof does not demonstrate that it is Australopithecus afarensis or an ape descended from it or even a less-evolved part of the human lineage. The relatively chinless jaw is simply not typical of modern humans. Nothing about this fossil indicates that its owner still had one foot in the ape-camp and was only in the process of evolving into a full-fledged human.
They are correct that the lack of a chin keeps it out of the modern human camp.  They are incorrect that it doesn't have transitional characteristics. Here is the relevant quote from the article1:
Indeed, in overall dental and mandibular size LD 350-1 matches smaller specimens of A. afarensis (figs. S1 to S4 and tables S1 to S3). In addition, LD 350-1 shares with A. afarensis a primitive anterior corpus, including an inclined symphyseal cross section, a bulbous anterior symphyseal face, and a projecting inferior transverse torus that is only slightly elevated above the corpus base (Fig. 2A).
What then follows in the scholarly article is a long discussion of no fewer than five distinct characteristics that align the Ledi jaw with Homo to the exclusion of Au. afarensis.  Villmoare and colleagues are keenly aware of the differences between australopithecine and human morphology.  This is why they can recognize these traits.  Thus, when Mitchell, Menton and Snelling write that nothing about the Ledi Jaw is transitional, and provide no evidence of their position, one is tempted to not take them seriously.  The next paragraph is no better:
The Ledi jaw’s bid to be Homo or an early transition to Homo rests largely on the fact that its assigned dates place it in the desired gap between the ape Lucy and archaic varieties of humans. Had its host sediment been dated substantially older, its human features would likely have been ignored or explained away. Evolutionists have been known to dismiss fossil evidence of very early Homo, no matter how similar to modern man, if the stratigraphically assigned dates are too old to fit into the evolutionary schema.
This is illogical. Why would evolutionists care how old it is? There are some, in fact, who would relish the idea of our line being pushed back even further.  The human features are there, regardless of how old it is.  That is why it is making waves—because it has the human features.  If it had been found to be older, the human-like features would not have vanished like the snows of yesteryear.  They would still have been there. 

The last sentence in the quote is, once again, presented without evidence and calls into question the integrity of the scientists involved in this discovery and others like it.  What evidence has been dismissed?  How has it been explained away? To call into question the motives of scientists and call them duplicitous without giving evidence to that effect is worthy of scorn and disrespect.  Put up or shut up.

The Ledi jaw wouldn’t even be close to being the oldest “Homo” if certain other fossil bones and footprints that are virtually identical to modern man were rightly recognized as Homo sapiens. For example, the Laetoli footprints are claimed to be 3.66 million years old and are virtually identical to modern man’s footprints, but no evolutionist considers them to be human because they are simply too old. The Kanapoi elbow fossil from the Lake Rudolf region of northern Kenya is the distal end of a humerus that is indistinguishable from Homo sapiens, but it is considered to be australopithecine in origin because it is also too old at 4.0–4.5 million years to be considered human. These assigned dates, based on a host of worldview-based unverifiable assumptions, blind evolutionists to the true identity of fossils like these. In truth, humans have been around since the sixth day of the Creation Week, the first two people having been created by God the same day as the land animals.
They are right, the footprints are too old, given that there is no evidence for modern humans until around 190 thousand years ago. The footprints are securely dated by radiometric techniques that the folks from AiG will never accept, despite their robusticity.  Same with the Kanopoi remains.  What this simply means is that, as with many transitional forms at this time, some characteristics were more human-like than others.  What these authors do not mention is that in other fossils from the time period, there are ape-like characteristics as well.  The elbow traits, along with the knee and hip traits are derived in the direction of Homo.  The simian traits are retained from their ancestors.

What these authors do fail to demonstrate is that there are fully modern humans in the same strata as the australopithecines.  That would sink our understanding of human origins once and for all.  Yet, that has never been done. 

They write that this fossil is dated using methods found to have “unverifiable assumptions.”  Curiously, this links to another AiG page on radiometric dating, which, in turn, links to an article authored by Steve Austin, of the ICR, on radiometric dating of Mount St. Helens, rather than actual peer-reviewed scientific articles.

Austin collected dacite samples from around the new St. Helens lava dome, which he knew had been formed around 1986.  He then separated them and sent them to a laboratory for potassium/argon dating.  When the results came back, he declared that radiometric dating was flawed because the results inticated that the dome had been formed around 350 000 years B.P.

In Kevin Henke's response to this report, he addresses how Austin misused the methodology to arrive at his conclusions.  He writes:
Considering that the half-life of potassium-40 (40K) is fairly long (1,250 million years, McDougall and Harrison, 1999, p. 9), the K-Ar method cannot be used to date samples that are much younger than 6,000 years old (Dalrymple, 1991, p. 93). A few thousand years are not enough time for 40Ar to accumulate in a sample at high enough concentrations to be detected and quantified. Furthermore, many geochronology laboratories do not have the expensive state-of-the-art equipment to accurately measure argon in samples that are only a few million years old. Specifically, the laboratory personnel that performed the K-Ar dating for Austin et al. Specifically, personnel at Geochron Laboratories of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, performed the K-Ar dating for Austin et al. This laboratory no longer performs K-Ar dating. However, when they did, their website clearly stated in a footnote that their equipment could not accurately date rocks that are younger than about 2 million years old ("We cannot analyze samples expected to be younger than 2 M.Y."; also see discussions by Bartelt et al.). With less advanced equipment, 'memory effects' can be a problem with very young samples (Dalrymple, 1969, p. 48). That is, very tiny amounts of argon contaminants from previous analyses may remain within the equipment, which precludes accurate dates for very young samples. For older samples, which contain more 40Ar, the contamination is diluted and has insignificant effects. Considering the statements at the Geochron website and the lowest age limitations of the K-Ar method, why did Austin submit a recently erupted dacite to this laboratory and expect a reliable answer??? Contrary to Swenson's uninformed claim that ' Dr Austin carefully designed the research to counter all possible objections', Austin clearly demonstrated his inexperience in geochronology when he wasted a lot of money using the K-Ar method on the wrong type of samples.
lawilson200 of Mount St. Helens watch also notes these problems, as does Skeptoid.  If Austin sent the samples to the lab that he knew were produced in 1986, then he either did not know that K/Ar dating requires samples that are at least two million years old to date accurately, or he did know that and submitted them to intentionally get spurious results to publicize the perceived limitations of radiometric dating.  In any event, without the support of Austin's argument, the bad date argument for the Ledi jaw collapses. 

Mitchell, Menton and Snelling write that the geologists studying the area around where the Ledi jaw was found cannot be sure how many stratigraphic layers are missing between the Gurumaha tuff beds and the Lee Adoyta tuff beds, so we cannot know for sure what the total thickness was.  Yes, but we know where the jaw was found and the authors are clear about what the maximum and minimum ages for the fossil can be, based on the dates.  The AiG writers then make an argument that the tuffs could have been formed in hours because of the nature of volcanic eruptions.  This fails to account for the depositional environment between the tuffs, to wit:
Ecological community structure analysis based on mammalian fauna recovered from the Gurumaha fault block indicates a more open habitat (mostly mixed grass-lands/shrublands with gallery forest) that likely experienced less rainfall than any of those reconstructed for the Members of the Hadar Formation (6). The landscape was similar to modern African open habitats, such as the Serengeti Plains, Kalahari, and other African open grasslands, given the abundance of grazing species and lack of arboreal taxa, although the presence of Deinotherium bozasi and tragelphins likely indicate a gallery forest (fig. S6). The existence of Kobus sigmoidalis, aff. Hippopotamus afarensis, crocodiles, and fish in this package reflect the presence of rivers and/or lakes. Approximately one-third of the mammalian taxa present are shared with the youngest Hadar Formation (~3 Ma), while one-third are first appearances of these taxa in the LAV (Table 1). The remaining one-third of mammals recovered can only be identified to the genus level.
How would these landscapes have formed in hours? They reflect hundreds, if not thousands of years of development, and they certainly could not have formed in the middle of a world-wide flood.

The argument presented by AiG also points to a peculiarity of the young earth argument: arguing against a proposition using uniformitarian principles, while at the same time taking no stock in those principles, whatsoever, since they have to be thrown out the window in any flood model. 

They continue:
The evolutionary determination to subdivide varieties of humans into various species is based on evolutionary claims, when in reality all humans would best be called Homo sapiens regardless of their variations. Nevertheless, we are stuck with the terminology that calls the descendants of various people descended like us from Adam and from Noah via the dispersion from Babel by names that imply they are unrelated. Truly, however, when it comes to a fossil like this one, the real question should not be “where in the evolutionary history of humans does it fit?” but rather “does it fit within the norms for human beings or not?” Though limited by its incompleteness, analysis of LD 350-1 suggests it belonged to a person.
Once again, how, then, do you explain the traits that link it to Au. afarensis? Those are clearly non-human. To sweep them under the rug is simply not tenable. These traits are outside the known variation of all modern humans.  No one has them.  Further, they don't even track with traits seen in later hominin forms such as Homo ergaster, Homo erectus or archaic Homo sapiens.  They are clearly australopithecine.

In summary, then, this article written by Mitchell, Menton and Snelling suffers from three principle problems:
  1. A failure to correctly describe the fossil material related to the Ledi jaw (Describing Au. afarensis as “An extinct knuckle-walking ape,” for example)
  2. A failure to correctly assess the human and non-human morphology of the Ledi jaw, itself, instead simply denying that the non-human traits exist, when in fact, they clearly link it to the preceding australopithecine fossil remains in many ways.
  3. Reliance on a single article for rejection of modern radiometric dating assumptions that has been heavily criticized for its misuse of proper methodology. (See this Davis Young article on radiometric dating for a good primer on how reliable it is).
These problems completely sink the AiG's analysis and conclusions of the Ledi jaw.  

1Villmoare, B., Kimbel, W. H., Seyoum, C., Campisano, C. J., DiMaggio, E., Rowan, J., Braun, D. R., Arrowsmith, J. R., & Reed, K. E. (2015). Early Homo at 2.8 Ma from Ledi-Geraru, Afar, Ethiopia. Science. doi: 10.1126/science.aaa1343

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Salamander From Hell

On the heels of the walking crododile from hell, we now have a car-sized salamander from a lake bed in Portugal.  The animal, named Metoposaurus algarvensis, is dated to the Triassic,and died out sometime around160 mya. Until then, as the story notes:
"Most modern amphibians are pretty tiny and harmless. But back in the Triassic, these giant predators would have made lakes and rivers pretty scary places to be," study co-author Richard Butler, of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. [See Images of the Super Salamander and Its Fossils]

Like other metoposaurids, the amphibian sported a big, broad skull and hundreds of sharp teeth. When its jaws were snapped shut, the beast's head "really looks like a toilet seat," said study co-author Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The skull was "circular-shaped with very thin, flat upper and lower jaws," and it would've flapped around this skull, snagging fish in the area's rivers and lakes, he added. Its puny arms and legs meant it likely couldn't move around much on land and thus would have spent much of its time in the water, Brusatte said.
Here is the artist's rendering from the LiveScience story.

As one commenter put it, it is very hard to incorporate this kind of animal into a creationist perspective. How would something like this not have been mentioned in the Bible? Or, for that matter, the snake from hell, the crocodiles from hell (all three of them) or the frog from hell?And that isn't even counting the tyrannosaurids. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Headline Says it All

Republicans fire 2016 starting gun at Christian college that teaches world is 6,000 years old

It didn't take the media long to latch on to that one, did it?   From the story:
The first Republican candidate for the 2016 US general election will officially declare his campaign on Monday at an Evangelical university that denies Darwin’s theory of evolution and teaches that the world is only 6,000 years old.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party darling from Texas with a reputation as a firebrand rhetorician, will announce his candidacy at Liberty University, a college for Evangelical Christians in the state of Virginia that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.
This is the first of many such characterizations that will come, I am sure.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ken Ham and Asteroids

Leave it to Ken Ham to take a science excursion into the “what if?” and ruin it. The Inquisitr is reporting on Ham's response to a new documentary, made by the Discovery Channel, in which they address the question of what would happen if a bolide were to hit the planet. These events happen regularly (in geologic time, anyway) but most are not of any size to create large-scale problems. The Winslow crater was created around 50k years ago but the last really biggie was the Yucatan bolide that ended the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on astrophysicists to do studies about whether or not another one will strike and when.  The significance of this seems to have escaped Ken Ham, who thinks that this kind of search is stuff and nonsense.  He writes:
What you believe about the Earth's past doesn’t just influence how you view it—your belief also determines how you view the future! Because of their beliefs about the past, many evolutionists are concerned that somehow mankind will be catastrophically wiped out and life as we know it will end on Earth. One of the most popular versions of this apocalyptic tale is that a massive asteroid, or several asteroids, will strike Earth and obliterate life. The Discovery Channel even recently made a video simulating what it would look like if a 500-kilometer (310-mile) asteroid smashed into the Pacific Ocean. According to their simulation, such an impact would destroy Earth and vaporize life.

Why is it that evolutionists are so concerned that humanity will someday be catastrophically destroyed? Well, according to man’s ideas about the past, life arose naturalistically and the universe is governed completely by the merciless laws of physics. According to their worldview, evolutionists contend there isn’t anyone upholding or sustaining the universe. We are simply at the mercy of naturalistic processes. Also, according to one evolutionary idea about the supposed dinosaur extinction event, a massive asteroid impact wiped out the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago. If such an event happened once before, what’s to stop it from happening again and wiping out humanity this time?
This is a bit like the congresswoman from Montana, I think it was, that argued against the need for addressing global warming because the earth had only been around for six thousand years so it was not possible for humans to have affected it that much, anyway.  He continues:
The Bible has already told us how things will end—with judgment from God when Jesus Christ returns to Earth (2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 20:11–15). Those of us who have trusted in Christ as Savior have no fear of this coming judgment because our penalty for sin has already been paid by Jesus. But instead of fearing some hypothetical asteroid apocalypse, those who refuse to acknowledge Christ as Lord should fear this coming judgment, and it should bring them to repent and put their faith in Christ.
Given that he has so badly garbled the beginning of the Bible, I am not entirely convinced he has gotten the end of it right, either. I have done little in the way of study of millenialism, so I won't wade into it here.  Is it true that our ultimate salvation is of paramount importance?  Yes, it is.  Should we have a good personal relationship with Jesus?  Yes we should.

Having said that, Ham is spilling a lot of ink over an exercise in astrophysics to scare people about fire and brimstone.  What a completely humorless response.

I think I might watch the program.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Crocodile From Hell, Part II

And I thought this guy was bad.  Now a 9-foot tall “walking crocodile” has been found from late Triassic deposits, around 230 million years ago.  Jeanna Bryner reports:
A 9-foot-tall beast with bladelike teeth once stalked the warm and wet environs of what is now North Carolina some 230 million years ago, before dinosaurs came onto the scene there, scientists have found.

Now called
Carnufex carolinensis, the crocodile ancestor likely walked on its hind legs, preying on armored reptiles and early mammal relatives in its ecosystem, the researchers say.

They named it
Carnufex, meaning "butcher" in Latin, because of its long skull, which resembles a knife, and its bladelike teeth, which it likely used to slice flesh off the bones of prey, said lead study author Lindsay Zanno, of NC State University and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. "'Butcher' seemed a very appropriate way to get that into the minds of people," Zanno told Live Science in an interview.

This is a part of the early Pseudosuchians, which are largely included in the archosaurs. The big forms, as with the large dinosaurs, did not survive the K-T extinction

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Todd Wood: Intro to Origins

The Core Academy has just finished putting together its Intro to Origins series of classes.  The topics are varied, including a discussion of the current creation/evolution debate, and sections on creationism and theistic evolution.  Each class is $50, and with four kids being home schooled, I just don't have the money for them. 

I have every belief that the science will be treated fairly and respectfully, if from a young-earth perspective.  There is a code on the site that will allow anyone interested to get a 25% discount for a set period of time.  I disagree with Todd on most things regarding the age of the earth and cosmogony but he has never treated the science shabbily. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another View From Canada: Saner Heads

In an unsigned editorial in the National Post, the editors write: “Judge politicians by their actions, not their religion.” The editors point out something about the true motivations in asking candidates about their scientific leanings:
Last week, Alberta Party member Natalie Odd told the National Post she had cornered Mr. Dirks at an event and demanded to know his views on the planet’s creation. “He said, ‘it’s possible to believe in creation and evolution.’ I wasn’t getting an answer out of him,” she said. She argued Mr. Dirks’ views are “relevant” because he has been front and centre in a controversy over gay-straight alliance clubs (GSAs) in schools — which was odd timing, considering last week the government introduced an amendment compelling schools to allow such clubs. Indeed, on Sunday Mr. Dirks’ church was picketed by people who feel he’s being overly permissive.
This kind of nonsense goes on here, as well. There are no shortage of republicans that support young earth creationism, some of who are public about such support, and most of the time, as in the example of Ronald Reagan, their views are largely irrelevant. The editors end with this bit of wisdom:
Practically speaking, there’s little reason to whisper darkly about politicians’ motives, religious or other, when they are legislating in the clear light of day: It would be difficult to insert something into the curriculum without the rest of society catching on. It’s fair to ask them about these at election time, as an indication of how they are likely to act in office. But ultimately it is how they act, not their beliefs, by which they should be measured. You say an MP’s vote on an issue was guided by his religious convictions? Bully for him. Just tell us how he voted.

“By your deeds shall ye be known.” Judge politicians by their actions, and leave their faiths to them.

As long as they don't run for science committees...

Ark Encounter Asks Judge for Injunction

In a very short AP article, it is being reported that the Ark Encounter is asking the judge involved in the suit that it filed in February to grant an injunction so it can get the tax breaks it requested from the state that were denied recently.  Here is the crux of the story:
Answers in Genesis sued state officials last month over a lost $18 million tax incentive from the state tourism department. The state had given preapproval for the incentive but in December rejected the Christian group's application, saying the mission of the park had changed from tourist attraction to ministry.

A lawyer for Answers in Genesis says the group should be treated the same as a non-religious applicant.

The Christian group also built the Creation Museum and is currently constructing a 500-foot-long wooden ark in Kentucky to anchor the biblical park.
Still not sure how this one is going to play out. It seems that Ham's ability to characterize it as a theme park and not as a ministry hinges on how connected the project is to Answers in Genesis, which is, obviously, a ministry. The ties between the two were hidden at first but now are much more visible.  It doesn't help that the legal team filing the suit are those retained by AiG. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Some Thoughts on American Fundamentalism from Across the Border

There is currently a kerfuffle going on in Canada, regarding the new Alberta Education Minister and his position on biological evolution.  Jen Gerson, of the National Post, writes:
Alberta premier Jim Prentice’s hand-picked education minister Gordon Dirks told forum attendees last weekend that he was an “Old Earth guy” — a reference to a doctrine of Creationism that generally rejects biological evolution.

Mr. Dirks has declined to clarify his views. He’s also declined to comment on whether or not he accepts the scientifically accepted understanding of evolution when asked directly by the Post.

“The Minister isn’t going to comment on his political opponents’ purposely manipulated recollections of private conversations…. He supports the existing curriculum and the government ensures schools follow it,” said Mr. Dirks’ spokesperson, David Heyman, who added that questions about creationism were posed by members of the centre-left Alberta party in a bid to corner and embarrass the minister.

It’s an effective tactic; there has traditionally been no shortage of ridicule for politicians who espouse genuinely held religious beliefs on the subject.
This has been a tactic on the part of the press here as well, and in the last election cycle, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman and several others stumbled out of the starting blocks when they ran up against that issue. Only John Huntsman looked at the issue squarely in the eye and said he accepted biological evolution, but by then, nobody knew who he was.  Contained in the story is this observation, as well:
Irving Hexham, a religion and politics professor at the University of Calgary, said evolution — like abortion — is a divisive issue among evangelical Christians. If politicians from this background come out in favour of the mainstream view of evolution, they risks alienating themselves from their own religious community.

“The whole evolution thing has blown up in North America in a ridiculous way. I don’t think there is any reason why Christians can’t believe in evolution, and throughout the world, a lot of Christians do,” he said.

However, the topic seems to be remain contentious among fundamentalists, and evangelical Christians in particular.

“American fundamentalism took it as a boundary. You’re on one side or another. If you believe in evolution, you can’t be a true Christian and you’re out of the fold. It’s a litmus test.”
While this has been a simmering issue for some time, it has only been within the last three years or so that high-profile Christians, such as Ken Ham has brought it to the forefront and, while he has claimed that his position has never been that one cannot be a Christian and accept evolution, he clearly thinks as much, given posts with such titles as The Danger of BioLogos, and BioLogos Funds Project to Undermine the Authority of the Word.  In fact, a word search for “Biologos” reveals quite a few articles in which Mr. Ham wrings his hands in dismay at theistic evolutionists. It is quite clear he regards us with suspicion and distrust.

Ken Ham is a very powerful force in modern evangelical Christianity and he has many supporters within the evangelical community.  Only prayer will loosen the hold he and others like him have on the home school and larger evangelical communities. 

It has been suggested that the modern Christian landscape is ready for a new denomination: the young earth creationist, since, for many, that viewpoint so dominates their thinking.  I wonder if that might be so. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Kent Hovind Guilty of Contempt of Court

Peter J. Reilly at Forbes, who has kept up-to-date on the trials and tribulations of Kent Hovind, reports that a jury has found him guilty of contempt of court.  He writes:
I just heard from Jonathan Schwartz of Interlock Media and freelance journalist Ben Sheffler that the jury has reached a verdict.  On the six count indictment, Hovind was found guilty on count three, which only applied to him – violating court orders to not interfere with title to the property. Hansen was found guilty on counts five and six, which only related to him – violating a court order to Creation Science Evangelism to refrain from further filings in relation the property and resisting a grand jury subpoena.  The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the more serious fraud charges against Hovind .  Hansen was found not guilty on one of the fraud charges (count two) with the jury not reaching a verdict on the other fraud charge (Counts 1 and 4).
As I mentioned in the last post, the target might just as easily be Paul Hansen, who was also indicted.  the jury's inability to come to a decision with regard to the fraud charges is big for the two, though, as those were the much more serious charges.  Here is more information.  What does this mean for Hovind? As Reilly notes, Hovind will continue the appeals to have the original charge dismissed.  It will be an uphill battle, though, given this recent instance of what the government surely saw as “meddling.”

Friday, March 13, 2015

Neandertals Hunted Eagles, Wore Talons as Jewelry

Nature News is reporting that a find of bone adornments was unearthed at the Krapina Neandertal site over 100 years ago but not recognized as being Neandertal in manufacture until just recently. According to the story in Nature News:
Neanderthals hunted mammoths, bison and other powerful animals for food — yet their fiercest foes may have been the massive eagles they snared to make jewellery. The talons of white-tailed eagles found at a Neanderthal site in Croatia show cut marks and patterns of wear that suggest the claws were donned as personal ornaments.

“They’re very powerful birds. It takes a certain amount of bravery and foolishness, even, to catch one of these things,” says David Frayer, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, whose team describes the claws in paper published on 12 March in the journal PLoS ONE.1 With wing spans of around 2 metres, the birds are Europe’s largest aerial predator.
Here is part of the image from the Nature News story, showing one set of ornaments.

This is more evidence of advanced/metaphysical thought on the part of Neandertals (not to mention their hunting abilities) and helps to paint a better picture of a complex society that was emerging in Europe at this time.

New BioLogos Post on LD 350-1

My post on the new fossil find in the Afar Triangle is up over at BioLogos.  This is a very, very important find because it stretches our own line, Homo back some 400 thousand years earlier than previously thought and relegates all but one of the australopithecines to side branches of human history.  All of those theories that Au. sediba, or Au. garhi or Au. africanus or Kenyanthropus might be ancestral to Homo?  Gone.  As Isaac Asimov would say, they are one with the snows of yesteryear.  Comments are welcome there and here.  

BTW, Ken Ham has promised (somewhat ominously) that there will be a response over at Answers in Genesis to the description of the find by the original authors.  I will tackle that when it comes out.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Great Homeschool Convention 2015: Jay Wile

Melanie and two of the kids have gone junketing off to the 2015 version of the Great Homeschool Convention, in Greenville, South Carolina.  The convention has sessions on all kinds of different topics, and a few on science in general and evolution, specifically.  The featured speaker this year in that area is Jay Wile.  Remember, the American homeschooling experience is, almost without exception, firmly in the young earth camp.  This is almost like founder effect, where one small population, in which all people have the allele for x proliferate and soon everybody has it, a la black hair in Japanese, Chinese and Koreans (which I am sure is pleiotropic).

Anyway, you may remember the dust-up a few years back involving Pete Enns and Ken Ham, in which the latter showed how nasty a person he can actually be.  I told Melanie that I would prefer that my children do not attend any of Jay Wile's sessions because I am quite sure that they will get only half-truths and misinformation.  He has a nine-part Youtube series on "Evolution: The Enemy of Truth and Science."  I scanned the series and concluded:
  • His knowledge of the fossil record is non-existent
  • He relies on out-dated information to bolster his case, such as making the statement that there are no transitional fossils and focusing for long periods of time on digressions like Haeckel's embryos and Piltdown
  • He completely misunderstands the cytochrome C argument
  • He completely distorts what Charles Walcott found in the Burgess Shale in 1909
  • He distorts how long the Cambrian explosion was, but the worst thing is that
  • He accuses evolutionary biologists of covering up data and lying.  
I wonder how he would react if someone in the audience stood up and said "Mr. Wile," did you know that young earth creationism is a lie?"  It is distressing to see a Christian address the science in this way and, in this vein, he is no better than Ken Ham, a man for whom I have no respect, whatsoever.  These are arguments that can be put over on an audience that does not have the necessary background to understand their vacuity.  Mainstream science always winds up on the defensive, in these instances. (Note: this paragraph is different from the one that was originally posted, which was considerably more scathing.  I wrote it after watching some of Wile's YouTube videos, and his distortions made me very angry, some of which I have repented of).  Like so many creationists, with the exception of Todd Wood, I cannot tell if he really has absolutely no idea what he is talking about, or is intentionally trying to mislead out of a misguided sense that he has to make sure that his audience doesn't ever accept evolution.  

Wile was the founder and writer of many of the textbooks of the Apologia educational ministries.  I ran into one of those a bit back, which was awful.   He has since left the ministry but is now on the convention circuit.  In 2009, Jerry Coyne received a letter from a distraught parent who's kids had also run afoul of the Apologia series.  It reads, in part:
There is a serious problem in homeschooling right now in that most homeschooling families find themselves using the Apologia series for teaching science because it is so parent friendly. However, this series was written with one purpose in mind and that was to debunk evolution in favor of Intelligent Design. While our family is religious, we are not Creationists and I have serious problems with the Apologia series. I find it dangerous because so many homeschoolers are using it. The author and owner of the company, Jay Wile, is so convincing he is turning many homeschooling families away from the real science of evolutionary biology to the pseudo science of Creationism even if they started out as evolutionists. These parents are turning to Apologia in good faith because there is nothing else out there that is parent friendly. We even used it ourselves at one point, but supplemented it with evolution videos and materials, but I refuse to contribute money to the company. Sadly, I have seen people that I know are intelligent and well educated fall victim to Dr. Wile’s very convincing arguments. I almost did myself, but was saved by more extensive research and my daughter’s level head.
Sadly, most parents will not go to the trouble of doing the extensive research necessary to combat the arguments so they get their heads filled with this nonsense from people like Wile.

The one good thing I can say for him is that, when Ken Ham launched his viscious attack against Pete Enns, Jay Wile stood up for Enns, and was, in turn, attacked by Ham's organization.  This does not exonerate Wile from his distortions and misinformation, however.  I pray that none of my friends go to these sessions.  I don't want to have those conversations with them. 

Friday, March 06, 2015

Ars Technica Pulls The Mask Off the "Teach the Controversy" Bills

I have written this many times in this blog: the “Teach the Controversy” legislation being promoted in different statehouses across the country is really a decidedly concerted effort to keep evolution from being successfully taught. The Discovery Institute has continued to maintain that they have no wish to intrude upon the teaching of evolution in the public schools, but that is only partly true. They are quite interested in making sure that it is not the only view taught.  Some years back, the Discovery Institute started a website, academicfreedompetiton.org that gave an example/model of what an academic freedom bill should look like. It reads in part:
Existing law does not expressly provide a right nor does it expressly protect tenure and employment for a public school teacher or teacher at an institution of higher education for presenting scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution. In addition, students are not expressly provided a right to positions on views regarding biological and chemical evolution.
Here's the catch: there is no “full range of scientific views” about evolution. That is like asking to teach the full range of views about gravity. Evolutionary theory is so robust that there are no competitors. Catastrophism, inheritance of acquired characteristics, blending, all have gone into the dustbin of science.  Evolution has only become a stronger theory over time.  As creationist Todd Wood once wrote:
Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.
That has not stopped the Discovery Institute. And now Scott Johnson of Ars Technica realizes that. He writes:
If you knew absolutely nothing about the bitter public debates over certain scientific issues in the US, the “teach the controversy” bills that keep surfacing would probably sound reasonable and unremarkable. These state bills, which are mostly identical, encourage science teachers to discuss the scientific strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories. Duh, right?

But why are these bills mainly focused on protecting said science teachers from being shut down by their superiors? Why would that happen?

To understand, you need to see that this is just the latest in a very long line of attempts to undermine the teaching of certain scientific topics that the legislators don’t like, especially evolution and climate change. The aim of these bills is to provide cover for teachers who want to teach their students that evolution isn’t a scientific fact and that creationism (possibly stealthed within the supposedly non-sectarian label of “intelligent design”) is a viable scientific alternative.
The Discovery Institute, as the source for the modelers of these bills is way out in front of your average state legislator, who probably couldn't spot evolution on a map but is absolutely sure that it is “evil, wicked, mean and nasty.”As long as they have people of good faith who will carry their water, in the name of scientific integrity, then they can sit back and watch.  This strategy has only worked out in some cases.  Most of the bills of this nature get bogged down in committee or voted down.  As he points out, only Tennessee's bill has passed.  I am quite sure another strategy is on the horizon.  There are a number of different paths this can take.  I am also quite sure that the Discovery Institute will continue its subterfuge.  It has a long history of that

Hovindicators, Onward March!

Peter Reilly has been having quite a bit of fun following the current travails of Kent Hovind, affectionately known as “Dr. Dino.” Hovind, who ran a young earth creationism organisation in the 1990s and early 2000s, ran afoul of the law in the middle of the aughts and wound up in jail for tax evasion in 2006. He has now served almost a decade of his sentence but now finds himself the recipient of yet another government indictment. I reported on this a bit back.  Now, apparently, the government is developing an interest in Hovind's co-defendent, Paul Hansen.  Reilly writes:
Kent Hovind, proponent of Young Earth Creationism, the notion that there is scientific not just hyper-literal scriptural evidence that humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth contemporaneously, is on trial for fraud and contempt of court. The charges relate to filings on properties that the government seized in connection with his conviction in 2006 on a 58 count indictment which included 45 counts of structuring. Structuring is the systematic withdrawal of amounts somewhat less than $10,000 to avoid currency reporting requirements. In addition to his long prison sentence, which is nearing its end, Hovind forfeited the structured funds.

Since the funds had been spent, property was seized. Paul John Hansen, trustee of Hovind’s ministry and co-defendant in the current trial, filed a lis pendens, warning potential buyers of the hazards of buying property from the federal government that might be subject to litigation.
As earlier, Reilly thinks the government is making a mountain out of a molehill and suggests that the case is really about something else:
Prosecutions for tax related offenses are very rare. Their purpose is to encourage compliance. This had me wondering, along with the Hovindicators – Why Kent Hovind? The initial volleys of the government indicate that their primary target may be Paul John Hansen, for whom defiance of government authority is a vocation. It has been more of a hobby to Kent Hovind, who focuses on winning souls, exposing the lies of evolution and warning about the coming New World Order.
Hovind, once upon a time, if you will recall, issued a challenge to the worldfor scientific evidence of evolution.  Here is the original offer:
I have a standing offer of $250,000 to anyone who can give any empirical evidence (scientific proof) for evolution.* My $250,000 offer demonstrates that the hypothesis of evolution is nothing more than a religious belief.

* NOTE: When I use the word evolution, I am not referring to the minor variations found in all of the various life forms (microevolution). I am referring to the general theory of evolution which believes these five major events took place without God:
1. Time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves.
2. Planets and stars formed from space dust.
3. Matter created life by itself.
4. Early life-forms learned to reproduce themselves.
5. Major changes occurred between these diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals).
An even casual reading of this “offer” suggests that God is the only one who would be able to provide this kind of evidence, which proceeds a priori from the theological construct that this biological and cosmic evolution took place in the absence of God, a proposition for which there can never be evidence one way or the other (and Hovind knows that). Suffice it to say the $250,000 was never collected.

Megan McArdle Thinks the Question to Scott Walker About Evolution is Misguided

She is right.  To a large extent, what a president thinks or does not think about evolution is largely irrelevant to the daily tasks of running the country.  We found that out with Ronald Reagan. In the current political crisis, involving what Scott Walker did or did not say with regard to evolution,  she writes:
I was at a dinner the other night where the very high percentage of Americans who believe in young-earth creationism was submitted as evidence of the failure of the U.S. school system. I don't think that's right. People forget most of what they learn in school almost as soon as they learn it -- I got an A in sophomore chemistry, and all I can tell you about it now is that it's sometimes measured in "moles" and there's something called a covalent bond that ... well, actually, I forget. And before you start looking all superior, STEM majors, what is the difference between the conditional and the subjunctive, and can you name four causes of the Thirty Years' War without resorting to Google?

Most of the people who "believe" in evolution don't have much more scientific foundation for their beliefs than a young-earth creationist does for theirs. I would be slightly surprised to learn that the reporters asking the questions -- or, for that matter, President Obama -- could deliver more than a few vague sentences about how evolution works, desperately dredged up from the Life Sciences module of their seventh-grade science class.
At the end of the article, she hints at why the question was asked in the first place: Scott Walker is a republican and, therefore, the natural subject of attacks by the press who are trying to trip him up. A starker contrast could not be found than the current issue with Hillary Clinton's private email accounts, about which the mainstream press is asking No Questions Whatsoever. 

They didn't ask Scott Walker a question about evolution because they wanted to know what he thought about it. They asked it because they know good and well that there is an established track record of republicans saying stupid things about science, publicly. That was their real target.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

New Jawbone Fills Gaps, Raises Questions

A group working in the Afar Triangle has discovered a mandibular fragment with associated teeth that show strong affinities to early Homo.

The catch is that the provisional date for this specimen is 2.8 million years. Writes Pallab Ghosh for the BBC:
The head of the research team told BBC News that the find gives the first insight into "the most important transitions in human evolution".

"This is the most important transition in human evolution”

Prof Brian Villmoare University of Nevada

Prof Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas said the discovery makes a clear link between an iconic 3.2 million-year-old hominin (human-like primate) discovered in the same area in 1974, called "Lucy".

Could Lucy's kind - which belonged to the species
Australopithecus afarensis - have evolved into the very first primitive humans?

"That's what we are arguing," said Prof Villmoare.
This find in the north of the continent strains, almost to the breaking point, the argument that Australopithecus sediba is the best candidate for being ancestral to early Homo. That find came from a cave in South Africa and, up to this point, all of the respective species of Australopithecus have been fairly tightly geographically restricted in their home ranges. The distinct possibility exists that only A. afarensis is ancestral and ALL other australopithecines went extinct, but we will have to wait for considerably more comparative studies on the morphology of the jaw to make any sort of rudimentary arguments along those lines.