Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ben Carson Repudiates Young Earth Creationism

A persistent meme among the media is that Ben Carson is a scientifically ignorant guy who thinks the earth was created six thousand years ago.  Not so fast.  The Christian Post is reporting on comments Carson made specifically addressing that issue.   Stoyan Zaimov writes:
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson clarified that he believes that God created the world but does not believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old, as young Earth creationists claim. Carson also criticized those who claim there is no way the Earth can be billions of years old, saying that such people put themselves "in the same category as God."I certainly believe that God is our Creator. And interestingly enough, if you look at our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, it talks about certain inalienable rights given to us by our Creator," Carson told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly in an interview.
He still doesn't like evolution. 

Bill Nye at The University of Tennessee Tomorrow Night

Bill Nye will be giving the inaugural Ken and Blaire Mossman Distinguished Lecture at 7 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena. Here is the blurb. From the announcement:
Widely known as “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” Nye is creator and host of the Emmy Award-winning children’s television show of the same name, which aired on PBS from 1992 to 1998.

A scientist, engineer, comedian, and inventor, Nye has authored five children’s books about science. His first book for a general audience, Undeniable—Evolution and the Science of Creation, focuses on the discoveries and principles of evolution.

Nye’s mission is to make science entertaining and accessible and to foster a scientifically literate society by helping people understand and appreciate the science that makes the world work. Nye also seeks to raise awareness about climate change and the value of critical thinking and reason.

He is CEO of the Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest group. He also holds a few unusual patents, including an improved toe shoe for ballerinas, a device to help people learn to throw a baseball better, and a magnifier made of water.
Come if you can.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Human Evolution = Apartheid?

About seven years ago, a Texas county official by the name of John Wiley Price made unwanted national news when he referred to the astronomical term “Black Hole” as racist. From the original story:
Later, Price told that he believed it and other terms were racist.

"So if it's 'angel food cake,' it's white. If it's 'devil's food cake,' it's black. If you're the 'black sheep of the family,' then you gotta be bad, you know. 'White sheep,' you're okay. You know?" Price said.

Price said people should watch their words when it comes to stereotypes.

"I think people should always be careful. You know, I'm okay if I'm 'bartering' with you. ... But if I try to 'Jew you down,' Oooooh. Is that racist? I thought it meant the same thing? No, maybe it doesn't."
Rather than confirm that the term “Black Hole” is racist, this story, instead, confirmed that science education had completely failed Mr. Price.That he could not distinguish between an astronomical term and a racial epithet was truly amazing.

A story today from South Africa is broadly similar in its absurdity.  As PhysOrg reports:
Some prominent South Africans have dismissed the discovery of a new human ancestor as a racist theory designed to cast Africans as "subhuman", an opinion that resonates in a country deeply bruised by apartheid.

"No one will dig old monkey bones to back up a theory that I was once a baboon. Sorry," said Zwelinzima Vavi, former general secretary of the powerful trade union group Cosatu, a faithful ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

"I am no grandchild of any ape, monkey or baboon—finish en klaar (Afrikaans for "that's it")," he said on his Twitter account, which is followed by more than 300,000 people.

His comments were backed by the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which was historically involved in the fight against apartheid.
Cloaked in the fight against apartheid to give it legitimacy, this perspective is nothing more than anti-evolutionary creationism.  Incredulous, Richard Dawkins comments:
It "breathes new life into paranoia," said prominent British biologist Richard Dawkins on his Twitter account this week. "Whole point is we're all African apes."
He is correct. Importantly, just like Mr. Price, science education has failed Mr. Vavi. We are not descended from baboons. We never were. The large-bodied and small-bodied primates split sometime around the Oligocene Epoch, some 35 to 40 million years ago.  Baboons went one way and the apes went the other.

I am waiting for the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis to jump all over this.  The DI has attempted to link evolutionary theory with eugenics and racism before. As far as AiG is concerned, evolution is just plain evil. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Elizabeth Mitchell, Homo naledi and the Straw Man

Elizabeth Mitchell, of Answers in Genesis, has written the rebuttal to the eLife Science paper on the new hominin find from South Africa, Homo naledi.  Sadly, her opening premise suffers from a fatal logical error, and all that follows proceeds from this premise. She writes:
Berger’s team believes the bones paint a mosaic picture of a species mixing human-like “Homo” and australopithecine ape features. Composites constructed from four partial skulls in the assemblage have small brain capacities—560 cc and 465 cc—that overlap the usual brain capacities of australopithecines. Such braincases are much smaller than those seen in most archaic humans1 and less than half the average for modern humans.
Hidden in this paragraph is a theme which runs throughout the post: that australopithecines were apes.  Compare, for example, these passages.  First, what Berger et al. write about the shoulder girdle:
The shoulders are configured largely like those of australopiths. The vertebrae are most similar to Pleistocene members of the genus Homo, whereas the ribcage is wide distally like Au. afarensis.
Now, what Mitchell writes:
Homo naledi’s shoulder joints and curved finger bones are typical of tree-swinging apes. Its flared hips are typical of australopithecine apes. The lower ribcage widens just like the ribcage of australopithecine apes.
When Raymond Dart discovered the first australopithecine specimen, in 1924, the first thing he noticed was that

it was not an ape.

As I wrote in more detailed fashion here, the find had several characteristics simply not found on any ape. First, the foramen magnum, the hole through which the spinal cord exits the head, was not at the back of the head, as in apes, but was on the bottom of the skull. Second, the teeth were not those of an ape, but had the dimensions of human teeth. In apes, even infant apes, the canines extend beyond the tooth row. In this skull, they did not. Third, the skull was simply too large to be that of an infant ape, based on the development. Fourth, there had never been found any apes in South Africa. Dart was a good anatomist and knew that what he had was not quite human—the skull was too small for that and the front of the face was too ape-like, but he also knew he did not have an ape.  That is why Dart gave it the name he did: Australopithecus africanus, “Southern Ape-Man from Africa.”   

Since this discovery some ninety one years ago,  the validity of this genus has only been reinforced, with the additional discoveries of more than ten different species of Australopithecus, all with variations on the same theme, and all with the following non-ape characteristics:
  • human-like teeth (although quite large in some species)
  • modern double-s shaped vertebral column
  • short, wide hips that resemble humans and not apes
  • a valgus knee, with the femoral-tibial articulation at an angle, instead of straight up, as in apes
  • a laterally-bending proximal femur to accomodate the wide hips and the connexion to the tibia and
  • a modern gait (reflected in preserved 3.6 million year old footprints at Laetoli)
There are countless other small anatomical characteristics that separate apes from these early hominins but the ones outlined above are enough to demonstrate that the initial premise of Dr. Mitchell is, simply, incorrect.

But there is something deeper at work here.  Pick up a paper on australopithecines, any paper, written in the last sixty years and you will find discussions of how these forms differed from each other and, more importantly, how they differ from apes.  Are they human?  Manifestly not.  In some early species, there are characteristics that are, indeed, intermediate between apes and early humans. But even that gives rise to the concept of transitional traits and forms in the fossil record.  That is where the problem lies.  If australopithecines can be painted as apes from the outset, then the task of showing that the new Homo naledi specimen is not different from australopithecines, and therefore, apes, becomes easier.

Then she writes something startling:
The question then is what is Homo naledi? Even the evolutionary anthropologists are not in agreement on that point, though most seem to have jumped on the Homo bandwagon. Yet while the fossil record contains many legitimate examples of extinct varieties of humans, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis, after assessing the published reports, we beg to differ with Berger’s assessment of Homo naledi. We do not believe Homo naledi deserves its Homo designation. [Emphasis Mine]
When did they these fossil forms go extinct? There is no evidence of extinction in the accounts in the Bible. Other writers do not seem to think they went extinct during the flood.  David Menton is firm in his conviction that Homo erectus represents a post-Babel population:
Neanderthals buried their dead and may have worn jewelry. Homo erectus seems to have divvied up jobs to prepare food and sailed the high seas. Even with little to go on, we can be fairly certain the Denisovans wore jewelry, and the much-maligned “hobbits” left tools useful for dicing up lunch. All uniquely human traits—traits that show creatures made in the image of God.
Which one of the biblical patriarchs had an angular torus, large brow ridges, thick cranial bones and a cranial capacity of 900 cubic centimeters? All of these traits would have stood out in any population. The variation present that Menton squeezes into one happy family vastly exceeds that present in any other naturally-occurring genus on the planet, let alone species. 

She finishes her post with the same, time and time again rebutted argument that the reason that Homo naledi is not a human is similar to australopithecines and, therefore, is nothing more than an ape.  This is the vacuum chamber/wind tunnel that AiG operates within.  Despite clear, decisive anatomical evidence to the contrary, the writers keep telling themselves that australopithecines were nothing more than apes.  The argument still has no credibility.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The York Dispatch: The Losers Are Winning in Dover

The York Dispatch has an editorial on the aftermath of the Dover trial and how it has affected the plaintiffs in the case.  In short: not well.  First they remind us of the words of John Jones III at the trial:
"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for (intelligent design). It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."
Despite this, as the editorial outlines, Bryan and Christy Rehm have been the target of veiled attacks and have been ostracized:
The Rehms, whose days in Dover Township are numbered, recently told The York Dispatch that they've had enough of the negativity that has followed them since the trial. They're moving.

"It just never goes away," Christy Rehm said. "We have proof it never goes away. We still feel it. We have neighbors that aren't so friendly with us."

Religious literature regularly fills their mailbox, and people call them "heathens" behind their backs, they said.

"We've given so much time, effort and energy to this district," Christy said. "A lot of people — a lot of our friends — have walked away, and we're still here. People just don't stay here."
What a rotten Christian witness from people who don't seem to know better but should.  I am sure there are quite a few people who didn't treat them this way, but the stench remains.  This is one reason (out of many) that I am almost done with modern evangelical Christianity.  Not Christianity, just the way people in the modern evangelical movement practice it.  I have a friend who went that route (not for the same reasons) a few years ago and converted to Orthodoxy.  That is looking better and better. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Or is Homo naledi Actually Homo erectus?

California Magazine, from the University of California at Berzerkeley, has an article written by Glen Martin, in which he details the skepticism about the taxonomic status of Homo naledi, specifically, that it does not represent a new species.  Martin writes:
The popular science press went bonkers last month with news that fossilized bones of a previously unknown hominid had been discovered in a cave system in South Africa. Dubbed Homo naledi by lead researcher and University of the Witwatersrand paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, these proto-humans appeared to have lived somewhere between 1 to 3 million years ago, used tools, walked upright, and may have buried their dead, a practice that has only been attributed to our own species, Homo sapiens, and Neanderthals.

So there was a lot of talk of a “missing link”—the biggest find in paleoanthropology since Lucy, the skeleton of a female
Australopithecus, was excavated from a gully near Ethiopia’s Awash River in 1974. (Donald Johanson, the lead researcher in Lucy’s discovery team, founded the Institute of Human Origins, which later moved from Berkeley to Arizona State.)
As I mentioned in my post on the find, echoed by PZ Myers, at Pharyngula, this notion of a “missing link” is a straw man that has been created by the popular press and jumped on by organizations like the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis.  Martin continues:
Amid all the hoopla and confetti, however, a growing number of scientists are advising caution. They’re not denying the importance of the find; the fossils, they say, are invaluable. But they contend that the bones may not represent a new species. The evidence these skeptics point to suggests that the finds may actually be bones from
Homo erectus, the earliest known hominid to manifest the general proportions, stance and gait of modern humans. H. erectus had a long tenure on the planet, living from about 2 million to 70,000 years ago. The species was widely distributed (from Africa to East Asia and possibly southern Europe), used tools and fire, and may have constructed rafts to cross wide bodies of water.
Berger maintains that the skulls are too small, with too many primitive characteristics to be Homo erectus.  Once again, though, we come to the problem of how old the bones are.  Here, White is particularly critical:
One tibia, for example, was white on one end, a clear indication it had been snapped off in the recent past,” said White. “This (region’s) complex is extensive and like Swiss cheese, and it’s a favorite with spelunkers. You find beer cans next to fossils that are 3.5 million years old. So it’s important not to jump to conclusions.”
If the bones are late, as is possible, then the finds (or at least parts of them) might represent a Homo erectus population that has late primitive retentions. Even if there is more than one species present, there is no getting around the fact that the small, primitive cranium is where the Homo erectus traits are found, as well.

Berger is quoted as saying that this debate should play out in the published literature.  I suspect it will and that, eventually, we will figure out what sorts of primitive and derived traits the cache in the cave actually represents, even if we might never know exactly how old they are.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

PZ Myers on Casey Luskin

PZ Myers, over at Pharyngula, has some harsh words for Casey Luskin's examination of Homo naledi.  In the post, he points out something that I have pointed out in several posts for BioLogos and in my rebuttal to Luskin's post on Homo naledi: a complete lack of understanding of systematics:
I’m not going to dissect every point in Luskin’s tediously long article in detail — really, he’s just echoing every question anyone has asked about H. naledi in the last few weeks, in an attempt to construct a litany of doubt — but I have to point out the numerous ways he misrepresents evolutionary biology to pretend that H. naledi is somehow a refutation of Darwin. As I’ve pointed out many times before, Luskin is a scientific illiterate who doesn’t actually understand anything remotely biological, from genetics to embryology to molecular biology to, now, paleontology. Actually, this isn’t the first time Luskin has tripped over himself in a rush to deny — he also didn’t like Tiktaalik. So this is just more of the same.
Luskin has a bad case of missinglinkitis. This is the idea that there is a linear series of steps in a progression leading from ape to human, and all we have to do is find each frame in the movie and we can replay everything in science class. He wants a “link”, a word he uses multiple times, and he wants “transitional fossils”, unaware that every individual is a transition between parent and progeny.
The key is to focus on the traits, something that Luskin and other Intelligent Design supporters fail to do. Myers further points out, as I did, that just about every fossil that we find is a mosaic of traits and when we follow the trait patterns, we can develop phylogenies.  This line of thinking has led to remarkable understanding of the evolution of Devonian tetrapods and the transition from theropod maniraptoran dinosaurs into birds. 

He also makes light of a point that Luskin makes about the venue that Berger and colleagues took when they wanted to publish the paper:
I have to mention two other lesser points from the paper. Luskin really knows nothing.

The technical paper, “Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa,” appeared in a lesser-known journal, eLife. It’s a great find due to the sheer number of bones that were found, but to my mind its publication in eLife is an immediate hint that this fossil isn’t an earthshattering “transitional form,” because if it were, we almost unquestionably would have seen the fossil published in Science or Nature.
No. Wrong. A lot of scientists resent the tyranny of the magical CV-enhancing powers of those two journals, and think they have an inflated and dangerously dominant reputation. eLife is an entirely credible new journal which, to all appearances, has a robust reputation for good, solid peer-review…and is also open source. There are a lot of scientists who are eager to see scientific information disseminated more widely without the limiting restrictions of traditional journal publishing, and Lee Berger, the lead investigator in this work, doesn’t need the résumé reinforcement that publishing in Nature or Science provides.
This is only half-correct. While it is quite true that many scientists like to publish in open-source publications like eLife and PLoS, this is not always the perspective of the managers and department heads, many of whom would much prefer that their researchers publish in high-profile journals, like Science and Nature.  I know this to be true through my work not just in publishing but in dealing with funders.  They like flashy papers.  This often (but not always) conflicts with the desires of the researchers, themselves.  Even though there are plenty of researchers who would like just to publish and get the information out there as fast as possible, I know of quite a few researchers who don't mind padding their resumes a bit with high-profile papers because they are angling for a position higher up on the academic food chain.  We would love to think otherwise, but it just isn't always true. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Casey Luskin on Homo naledi

Casey Luskin has written a piece for Evolution, News and Views, in which he examines the hype surrounding the new Homo naledi find.  It would take more time than I have to tackle it point by point, but I will hit the high notes.  He writes:
It has long been recognized that we are missing fossils documenting the supposed transition from the apelike genus Australopithecus to the humanlike Homo. Despite what you may be hearing in the media, Homo naledi does not solve this problem.
That's okay. It wasn't meant to. It fills in a bit of a puzzle, that is all. We now have more information than we had about this transition, which appears to have been complex.  He continues:
Some have envisioned the hallowed intermediate link being a creature with an apelike body and a human-like head. For some time, Homo habilis was claimed to be such a candidate -- until cooler heads prevailed, as I noted earlier. Others have hoped we'd uncover something with a more Homo-like postcranial (below the head) skeleton but a more australopith-ape-like body. Indeed, almost exactly four years ago, in a post titled "Hominid Hype and the Election Cycle," I noted these precise arguments with regard to Australopithecus sediba.
Coincidently, we're right now in almost exactly the same place in the election cycle, and seeing almost identical claims about this new fossil discovery. Indeed, Homo naledi was discovered (and is being promoted) by the same researcher, Lee Berger, that unveiled (and promoted) sediba, although, as we'll see, naledi has a very different and unique set of traits from sediba.
One of the issues so far has been the dating of the remains.  Luskin, in quoting Carol Ward's concerns about lack of dating of the fossils, makes a legitimate objection in that we do not know how old the bones are.  That is a problem.  As I pointed out in my BioLogos post, we can date the cave floor, we can date the cave walls and we can date the cave ceiling but we have little to no idea when the bones were dropped in.  It is clear that the floor of this cave was not a living floor.  He writes:
The main claim about Homo naledi is that it is a small-brained hominin (when compared to humans) that has other features that are very humanlike -- especially its hands and feet. As the news headlines suggest, there has been an immense amount of hype about this species, consistent with the hype surrounding Australopithecus sediba, which again was discovered and promoted by the same researcher, Lee Berger. However, while there are some humanlike aspects of its body plan, my overall impression is that this is a highly unique species that doesn't fit well into previously established categories.
He is also correct about that.  It doesn't.  H. naledi has characteristics that link it with many different hominins and the combination of traits is unique.   This is not a problem it is, as Carol Ward commented, shows us that there was considerable hominin diversity at this time and, apparently at other times in the past.  The problem is that he uses selective passages and slanted wording to imply that the case for it having "human" traits is overblown.  For example:

  For example, Luskin writes:
The hands are claimed to be humanlike but they have key unique features and, unlike human hands, are tailored for climbing. ABC News reported: "Homo naledi had human-like hands and feet, but Tattersall said it was impressive that it also had climbing features, more similar to an ape." CNN reports: "Its hands are superficially humanlike, but the finger bones are locked into a curve -- a trait that suggests climbing and tool-using capabilities." And even Berger states: "It's pretty clear from those fingers that they're [for] climbing."
All of this is done to shift the emphasis away from the fact that, while the hominin did possess primitive traits, it also possessed derived ones. Let's see what Berger actually writes about the find:
The hand shares many derived features of modern humans and Neandertals in the thumb, wrist, and palm, but has relatively long and markedly curved fingers (Kivell et al., 2015). The thumb is long relative to the length of the other digits, and includes a robust metacarpal with well-developed intrinsic (M. opponens pollicis and M. first dorsal interosseous) muscle attachments.
Note the characteristics that Luskin leaves out.  With regard to our understanding of its taxonomic designation, Luskin writes:
Even Berger admits, "It doesn't look a lot like us." He also states: "There may be debate over the Homo designation" since "the species is quite different from anything else we have seen."
It wouldn't be surprising if later analyses change our understanding of the fossil.
He then puts in the following quote from an interview of Carol Ward in The Scientist:
Carol Ward, a professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at the University of Missouri who was not involved with the study said she was disappointed by the lack of empirical data presented in the paper. "There are only tiny composite pictures of the fossils, so you can't see them and there are no comparative data comparing it to anything else," said Ward. "There's nothing we can use to make our own judgments about the validity of what they are saying."
The problem is that he leaves out a rather significant statement about the find that precedes that. Here is the entire passage from the article (emphasis added):
“H. naledi possesses a combination of primitive and derived features not seen in the hand of any other hominin,” the authors wrote, but Carol Ward, a professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at the University of Missouri who was not involved with the study said she was disappointed by the lack of empirical data presented in the paper. “There are only tiny composite pictures of the fossils, so you can’t see them and there are no comparative data comparing it to anything else,” said Ward. “There’s nothing we can use to make our own judgments about the validity of what they are saying.”
Luskin has done two things here.  By removing the ellipses in from of the initial part of the quote, he suggests that this is a self-contained thought, which it clearly is not.  Further, by not quoting the initial statement of Ward's, he omits that she sees not just primitive but derived traits as well.  This is a pattern throughout his piece.

He phrases the rest of the piece in the form of four controversies.

The first is “How Old is Homo naledi?”  The irony here is that Luskin could very easily have focused on this topic and left it at that.  He has Berger over a barrel, here.  We don't know how old the bones are.  We have zero idea when they were dropped in. Gunter Brauer had a problem in the 1990s with an important skull in the transition to early modern humans, Eliye Springs, which washed out a bank where the spring entered Lake Turkana.  Great find, no idea what its age is.  As I mentioned in my blog post on Homo naledi, the South African cave sites present a serious problem for dating the hominins in which they are found.  Some success has been had but many finds are simply given wide chronological ranges.

Consequently, if Homo naledi is between 2 and 3 mya, it represents a find that is near where the transition is thought to occur, based on the presence of early Homo in East Africa, although the Ledi jaw may suggest an earlier transition.  On the other hand, if it is late, say 1 mya, then it simply represents a dead end that retained many primitive traits.

Here is what Luskin writes about this:
But some of naledi's advocates think they know what to make of the fossils, despite the compete current lack of an age for these fossils. How do they know? Evolutionary assumptions, which drive a desire among some that the bones should turn out to be somewhere between 2.5 and 3 million years old.
This is not entirely true and Luskin knows it, or ought to. There are perfectly valid reasons to suggest that this find is this old, even if we do not, in fact, know its age. For one thing, we know that we have hominins in East Africa that have derived traits toward modern humans between 2.3 and 1.8 million years ago.  Consequently, we know that the transition to this form(s) took place somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0 million years ago.  Further, this tracks with the discovery of the Ledi jaw, which has a mix of australopithecine and early Homo traits and is dated to 2.8 mya.  Therefore, do we know how old the Homo naledi fossils are?  No, we don't.  Are the estimated dates just being driven by evolutionary assumptions?  Clearly not.

Controversy Number 2: “Is Homo naledi a single species?”  Luskin writes:
The question of whether the bones currently assigned to Homo naledi represent a single species may seem like an academic one but it actually could bear directly upon whether it's something like a transitional form, or nothing of the kind. Jeffrey Schwartz, an anthropologist at the University of Pittsburgh, thinks the bones represent multiple species because of the two different types of skulls found in the cave.
Where Luskin is going with this is that, if there are, in fact, two different species in the cave, then some of them might just be modern human.  He continues:
The fact that Berger appeals to sexual dimorphism (different morphologies between males and females of a single species) to explain the different skulls is revealing. It shows that there is indeed a challenge to his "single species" claim. However, if there are multiple species, then you don't necessarily know that humanlike hands and feet didn't come from something more like us, whereas the small heads came from another species more like an australopith. We just don't know.
Here, he glosses over something very important:  even the human-like skeletal material has characteristics that are not modern for example:
  • The small heads have both angular and occipital tori, characteristics only found on Homo erectus.  No australopithecine has these and no modern human does, either.
  • The faces, while being small, lack australopithecine traits such as canine jugae and anterior pillars.  Further, there is limited post-orbital constriction, a more modern characteristic.
  • Even the “human-like” hands and feet have characteristics that are primitive. For example, Berger writes: 
    The talar head and neck exhibit strong, humanlike torsion; the horizontal angle is higher than in most humans, similar to that found in australopiths. The calcaneus is only moderately robust, but possesses the plantar declination of the retrotrochlear eminence and plantarly positioned lateral plantar process found in both modern humans and Au. afarensis...The phalanges are moderately curved, slightly more so than in H. sapiens. The only primitive anatomies found in the foot of H. naledi are the talar head and neck declination and sustentaculum tali angles, suggestive of a lower arched foot with a more plantarly positioned and horizontally inclined medial column than typically found in modern humans...Overall, carpal shapes and articular configurations are very similar to those of modern humans and Neandertals, and unlike those of great apes and other extinct hominins. However, the H. naledi wrist lacks a third metacarpal styloid process, has a more radioulnarly oriented capitate-Mc2 joint, and has a relatively small trapezium-Mc1 joint compared to humans and Neandertals. Moreover, the phalanges are long (relative to the palm) and more curved than most australopiths.
Therefore, appeals to there being modern humans in the cave along with australopithecines are not warranted. Maybe there was more than one species in the cave and one of them was an australopithecine. What remained, however, was not modern human.  There are no modern humans walking around with angular and occipital tori.

But say there is more than one species down there, and these different species represent different times in the history of hominin evolution.  Would this be a bad thing? What it would mean is that there is a good deal of variability in the human fossil record, something we already suspected anyway.  We know that expanded diversity existed as far back as Ardipithecus.  Why would it not be present at other times?

Controversy No. 3: Did Homo naledi Bury Its Dead?  Here is Luskin:
A major claim being promoted in the media holds that Homo naledi ritualistically buried its dead, a testimony to its supposedly human-like intellect.
Even if this story is true, it's not the case that this species buried its dead in any manner like humans bury their dead. The bones weren't buried in the ground. Rather, it seems like the bodies were just tossed into the back crevice of a cave and left there to rot...
Luskin is correct that the media attention to this is overblown and sensationalistic. Luskin goes on, then to quote many different researchers who are skeptical about this claim (skepticism that I think is warranted, by the way) But let's see what Berger et al. say about it. First, the word “burial” never appears once in the original paper by Berger et al. That information comes from the supplementary paper by Dirks et al., who write this:
The Dinaledi collection displays taphonomic characteristics indicative of a depositional history that involved several stages of burial with surface modifications and breakage patterns consistent with repeated reworking of at least part of the assemblage within the confines of the Dinaledi Chamber, involving both biotic and abiotic agents (Supplementary file 2). The distribution of bone material and skeletal part representation indicative of limited winnowing (Table 1) indicate that the fossils of H. naledi must have found their way into the chamber via a difficult route that precluded any other large vertebrates from finding a way in. The distribution of the fossils within reworked material derived from Unit 2, as well-articulated remains in Unit 3 suggests that H. naledi fossils entered the chamber over an extended period of time; that is, not all remains were deposited at once.
So that is what we know, and that is all we know.  First, I was wrong in my post on BioLogos, this is not a standard karst cave with a top opening of any kind.  Consequently, there is no way for the bones to have gotten there unless they were placed there.  There is one possible explanation that is not mentioned by Dirks that is not in the account by Luskin:
Flowstone formation continues today (Flowstone 3), changing the morphology of cave passages. This makes it possible that a more direct access-way or easier passage may have existed when hominins entered. A different entrance into the chamber may also explain the presence of rodent bone concentrations in Facies 1b. However, sedimentation patterns indicate that the accumulation of Unit 2 with fossils occurred below the current entry point into the chamber, and alternate routes did not involve vertical access shafts that connected directly to surface in either the Dinaledi Chamber or nearby Dragon's Back Chamber.
This doesn't address the reliability of the burial hypothesis but it does suggest that it might have been much easier for the bones to get where they were.  I suspect that Jungers is correct in his hypothesis about whether or not they were intentionally buried.

Controversy No. 4: Does "Homo" naledi Belong in Homo? Luskin writes:
Ian Tattersall told ABC News: "We're [probably] looking at a cousin rather than an ancestor, but who knows."

"Who knows..." That is exactly right. Even Berger stated: "We need to be very cautious about proclaiming everything we find as the direct ancestors of humans, it's clear there are a lot of experiments going on out there."
Much is left out of this series of statements. Let's go back to the ABC article from which it is quoted:
Researchers said the newly discovered species most resembles other hominids such as Homo erectus, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis.

Ian Tattersall, curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, said the find was incredibly important and could shed important light on Homo sapiens, modern humans, as a species and the many other early hominoids.

“It’s really very exciting,” Tattersall told ABC News. “What this is doing is definitely increasing the perception that we have -- that evolution of hominids was one of vigorous experimentation of evolution.”
Why would the find shed any light on Homo if it did not have any characteristics of Homo? As numerous researchers have commented, it absolutely does.  Many of the characteristics that align it with Homo erectus have been pointed out, as well as other deviations from australopithecines.

Much of what Luskin is trying to accomplish in this section is focused on the fact that, while the Dinaledi finds have characteristics that align them with Homo, they also have some that align them with australopithecines and maybe we are over-interpreting the early Homo ones.  He then vaguely supports his case by using a series of quotes from researchers who are skeptical that we know exactly what H. naledi actually is.  For example, he writes this:
Schwartz himself wrote a scathing op-ed in Newsweek, "Why the Homo Naledi Discovery May Not Be Quite What it Seems." He argued that "Homo naledi" may in fact represent multiple species, and probably doesn't belong in Homo:
Interestingly, he then quotes Schwartz, who points out only the australopithecine portions of the anatomy, to the exclusion of any of the modern traits that it has.  While it is quite true that there are differing opinions about what these finds represent, it is equally true that there are Homo traits present.  Consequently, to simply lump them in with australopithecines is inaccurate.  It may be years before we have enough information to make a sound judgment about exactly where this fits in the pantheon of human evolution, but for now, we can safely say that, whether or not there are one species present or two, a hominin with some of the traits of early Homo was present at this cave.

But even if

it turns out that H. naledi is, in fact, Au. naledi, after much reflection.  Then it just means that australopithecine diversity is greater than we thought it was and that there were many different morphs that exhibited a wide range of traits, some of which were derived in the direction of Homo.  That we don't know exactly which form gave rise to an early Homo form is not a deal-breaker.  Remember, systematics does not reveal ancestor-descendant relationships, but, instead, sister taxa.  Au. sediba and H. naledi are two different forms that express a mosaic of traits, some of which are advanced and some which are not.  They are both considerably more advanced than the australopithecines that preceded them.

Luskin is focused on the fact that H. naledi is probably not the missing link between the australopithecines and early Homo that everybody was hoping for.  That is beside the point.  The point is we now know quite a bit more about this stage of human evolution.  Even if the bones turn out to be younger than we thought, it still gives us information about human evolutionary development that we did not already have.  That's okay.