Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ken Ham Sells Ark Encounter Land Back To Himself

And Hey Presto!  Just like that, it is back again.  The Lexington Herald Leader is reporting that the land on which the Ark Encounter sits, has been sold back to Ark Encounter, LLC for...$10.  From Linda Blackford:
Three days after state tourism officials suspended an $18 million tax incentive, officials at a Noah’s Ark theme park have sold their main parcel back to their for-profit entity for $10.

The issue started in late June after Ark Encounter LLC sold the parcel to its non-profit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon for $10. The deed continues to describe the property as worth $18 million even though the Grant County PVA has assessed the land for $48 million.

Ark Encounter officials have declined to say why they sold the property in the first place, but the move in June coincided with their refusal to pay a safety assessment tax levied by the city of Williamstown. City officials worried that the sale might be the first step in the ark park claiming non-profit status, which would exempt it from property taxes.

But on July 18, state tourism officials said the land sale breached the sales tax rebate incentive agreement, which was with Ark Encounter LLC, not Crosswater Canyon.
Of course Ark officials have declined to say why they sold the land back.  I am quite sure it had nothing to do with the fact that Ken Ham and company somewhat nakedly tried to get out of paying $700,000 in infrastructure taxes to the city of Williamstown by executing an ethically questionable business deal and then, discovering that the $700,000 was a paltry sum compared to the $18 million in tax incentives over the next ten years and seeing how the sale played out in the media, went back on it.  I was going to write “did the right thing,” but I am not sure doing the right thing crossed their minds.

The only consolation in this is that Ken Ham is out $20.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Continuing Downward Spiral of Bryan College

As if things could not get any worse for Bryan College, news has now surfaced that a much beloved professor, Phillip Lestmann, a tenured professor of mathematics, has been fired for voicing concern about the college and, in the face of recent controversies and scandals, circulating a petition calling for the resignation of President Stephen Livesay.  This petition reads, in part:
President Livesay has failed to act biblically toward believers who disagree with him. Consistent reports from a number of those who have worked at the College show that Livesay does not follow the mandates of Matthew 18:15 and Ephesians 4:13-16 to discuss his differences with other believers in a humble, loving way that could promote correction and reconciliation. Instead, he treats all disagreement with his views as evil and uses deception, threats, and job termination to silence dialogue and hide dissent.

President Livesay has continued to incite the opposition of Christian men and women of proven faith and integrity. Pastors, Christian professionals, faculty and staff who have made sacrifices over many years for Christ and His ministry at Bryan College, and some of Bryan’s brightest and most faithful students, alumni, and friends have spoken up again and again against Livesay’s failures in godly servant-leadership. Yet he has refused to repent and goes on dividing and damaging the body of Christ at Bryan (John 17:20-21).
 From Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed:
The professor was criticized by the administration for having helped organize an "opposition group" -- and that charge has many saying that disagreeing with the administration has become a firing offense, making academic freedom impossible.

That dismissal appears to have added to the push for change at Bryan, with the petition quickly gathering support among alumni.

Bryan's name honors William Jennings Bryan, the prosecutor in the 1925 trial of John Scopes, a public school teacher accused of teaching evolution. The trial took place near campus, and while Bryan's anti-evolution stance fell from favor elsewhere, it has never fallen with leaders of the college.

Tensions have been growing at Bryan since 2014, when the college issued a "clarification" to the college’s statement of faith, which all faculty members must endorse, asserting the historicity of Adam and Eve. While the college has long had a statement of faith stressing belief in the Bible and various core values, the detail about Adam and Eve struck many faculty members and alumni as going too far, and as a move that would limit the ability of some professors to stay (some indeed left).
The other controversy involved the hushed-up dealings with a Christian camp counselor indicted and jailed over sexual molestation charges. In the wake of this incident, the president, Stephen Livesay, has configured the Bryan College Board of Directors to be supportive of his agenda, and critics have argued that the new board is little more than a mouthpiece for Livesay.

Conservative columnist Mike Adams, who just participated in the Summit Ministries workshop, hosted at Bryan College (to which my son Marcus went last year), tweeted the following: 
Someone has also posted a tweet taking aim at the College's absolutely appalling decision to give Ken Ham, head of Answers in Genesis, an honorary degree in science:
Things will likely get worse for Bryan before they get better, if they get better.  I already know of one person who is a graduate of the college who has requested a transcript from them because he fears that they might shut down.  That would, in many ways, be very sad.  I have visited the college.  It is very pretty and has, from all reports, thriving programs in many disciplines.  Further, the faculty are Godly men and women and should not have to pay for the numerous sins of their president and administration. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Busted! Ken Ham's Ark Encounter Loses $18,000,000 in Tax Incentives From State of Kentucky

WUKY and other outlets are reporting that the Kentucky Board of Tourism has suspended $18 million worth of tax incentives for which the Ark Encounter had applied prior to its construction.

A general timeline: The Ark Encounter, LLC is set up as a for-profit company for the purpose of overseeing the construction of the Ark Encounter.  This company applies for the tax incentives to help defray the cost of the construction.  Despite controversy, Ham defends the use of the tax incentives.  Ark Encounter LLC also issues junk bonds  for this purpose.  The Ark Encounter opens on July 7, 2016 to much fanfare.  Ken Ham declares that he expects over two million visitors the first year.  Ticket prices are set at $40 for adults, $28 for children 5-12.

Well, after a year, controversy has continued to swirl around the Ark Encounter.  Instead of 2 million visitors for the first year, the Ark Encounter has drawn only 1.1 million visitors.  Ken Ham blames the lack of hotel space for this problem rather than, say, really high ticket prices.

After a year, the city of Williamstown complains that the Ark Encounter has brought in little to no business for local establishments.  Faced with growing infrastructure costs due to increased traffic because of the Ark Encounter, the Mayor of Williamstown, Rick Skinner, informs Ark Encounter, LLC that it will be imposing a 50-center per ticket tax to help pay for the upkeep of the town.

One day prior to the tax going into effect, Ken Ham sells the land on which the Ark Encounter sits to Crosswater Canyon, a non-profit organization owed by the Creation Museum, for $10.  Arguing that they are now a religious organization, Ark Encounter, LLC refuses to pay this tax.  The city of Williamstown pushes forward, threatening a lawsuit.  This brings us to the most recent update.

The Louisville Courier-Journal is now reporting that Ark Encounter, LLC, has had its tax incentives suspended by the state of Kentucky's Board of Tourism.   Deborah Yetter writes:
Kentucky has suspended tax breaks to the Ark Encounter, saying it breached a deal that provides the religious-themed attraction with $18 million in state tax incentives.

The Northern Kentucky theme park, dubbed the "Ark Park" because it features a 510-foot-long model of Noah's Ark, was notified by state officials on Tuesday that the owners have violated an agreement with Kentucky by transferring the property from a for-profit company to a nonprofit company.
It is difficult for me to believe that the managers of Ark Encounter, LLC, did not know that the optics of this deal would look terrible.  Yetter continues:
Earlier in the week, Mike Zovath, chief action officer with Answers in Genesis and principal of Crosswater Canyon, couldn't say why the property was transferred to a nonprofit.

"However this works out, we want to do things that are in the best interest of the Ark Encounter, Crosswater Canyon and everybody that's involved here and works here," he told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

But Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner fears the move was taken to avoid paying taxes.

"We're skeptical of their thinking and their lack of communication right now," Skinner said.
Ken Ham and the managers of the Ark Encounter have allowed their focus on profits above all else to deflect blame for the park’s low attendance and behave unethically. All involved in the Ark Encounter, LLC and Crosswater Canyon should be ashamed of themselves for this naked shirking of responsibility and cash grab. I am quite certain that Ken Ham will protest this move by the tourism board.  I hope he does.  It will only reveal more shady dealings that, I am sure, are there. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ark Encounter Update: Did Ken Ham Just Escape $700,000 in Taxes?

The International Business Times is reporting that Ken Ham has sold his for-profit Ark Encounter to its parent organization, Crosswater Canyon, a non-profit company, for ten dollars.  Linda Blackford writes:
On June 29, Williamstown city attorney Jeffrey Shipp sent a letter to the biblical amusement park Ark Encounter, rejecting its request to be exempted from a new safety tax because its is a religious organization.

Shipp said it was clear that Ark Encounter is a for-profit entity, which is how it has been listed with the Kentucky secretary of state’s office since 2011.

But the day before, Ark Encounter LLC sold its main parcel of land — the one with the large-scale Noah’s Ark — for $10 to its nonprofit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon. Although the property is worth $48 million according to the Grant County property valuation administrator, the deed says its value is only $18.5 million.

That’s the latest salvo in an escalating dispute between local officials and Ark Encounter, but some people are worried that Ark Encounter’s maneuver is a precursor to declaring itself exempt from all taxes, including property taxes that help finance Grant County schools.

“I believe this is the first step,” Williamstown city councilman Kim Crupper said. “The impact would be far larger than just Williamstown.”

The council is scheduled to meet Tuesday night with Ark officials to continue talking about their differences, but Crupper and Mayor Rick Skinner said they think a lawsuit is imminent.
This came about because the city of Williamstown, in order to shore up its police department and roads, decided to impose a 50-cent tax on each ticket sold at the Ark Encounter. Tickets run $40 for adults, plus $10 for parking.

The mayor, Rick Skinner stated that the taxes would add up to approximately $700,000.  Numerous reports already circulate the the Ark Encounter has brought next to no business to the local economy.  All of this comes after the Ark Encounter, LLC received some incredible tax breaks. From the Lexington Herald Leader story:
The tax break allows approved tourism sites to recover as much as 25 percent of their investment through a rebate of state sales taxes paid by visitors. The theme park also will receive tax breaks from Grant County and the city of Williamstown. The state also designated $11 million in road funds for an expanded interchange off Interstate 75.
If this is true, this is a huge black eye for the Ark Encounter and paints a huge target on Christianity. While I have no respect for Mr. Ham and consider this theme park monstrosity one of the most egregious examples of the Disney-ization of Christianity, its effect will reach much further than Williamstown, especially if a lawsuit occurs.  What will strike your average reader is that Ken Ham, after using every trick in the book to get the ark-n-park built, is now shirking his responsibility to the community because his ark is not bringing in the numbers that he thought it would.  This will, further, give ammunition to those who do not agree with the tax exemption of churches.

It all looks very suspicious and underhanded on the part of Ken Ham and Ark Encounter, LLC.  Blackford's article closes with this:
Skinner said he is disappointed in how the town’s relationship with Ark officials has deteriorated, but he said he would wait to comment further until Tuesday’s meeting.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ark Encounter: Profit or Non-Profit?

The Panda's Thumb is reporting yet another kerfuffle involving the Ark Encounter, the Town of Williamstown, and finances. Matt Young writes:
According to press reports in the Grant County News and the Lexington Herald Leader, the management of the Ark Park is resisting efforts by the City of Williamstown to collect a safety fee that will be used to upgrade police and fire protection because of Williamstown’s increased needs as a result of the Ark Park.

Ark Encounter, which owns the Ark Park, is a for-profit corporation and arguably should be subject to the tax. It is, however, owned by a nonprofit corporation, Crosswater Canyon. Mark Looy of Answers in Genesis has previously admitted that Ark Encounter is a for-profit corporation, but now he argues that they should be exempt from the tax because – you guessed it – Ark Encounter is owned by a nonprofit.

The Williamstown City Council, anticipating a possible lawsuit, has gone into executive session. According to an informant of ours, Williamstown, which was promised untold wealth if it permitted the Ark “replica” to be built there, barely has a coffee shop downtown, let alone the restaurants and hotels which were supposed to provide jobs and revenue. If you need gasoline or a tattoo, our informant implies, Williamstown is the place to go.
There may be more to this story than meets the eye but, on the surface, it seems as if the good Mr. Ham is jettisoning his integrity in favor of meagre profits. All reports are that attendance is nowhere near the estimated 2 million visitors for the year. It is more like 1.4 million and the nearby towns are seeing none of the expected revenue from it.  What a debacle.  It is hard to feel too much sympathy for the town of Williamstown because they bent over backward and made some very questionable decisions to get the park.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Babylon Bee: Ken Ham Auctions Authentic Photo Of His Great-Great-Grandfather Riding Triceratops

The Babylon Bee has a good deal of fun with Ken Ham.  It is a fertile source, after all.  Their newest gag: that Ken Ham is auctioning off an authentic photo of his great-great grandfather riding a Triceratops.  They write:
As part of a fundraiser for his Creation Museum and Ark Encounter theme park, Answers in Genesis CEO Ken Ham is auctioning an original photograph of his great-great-grandfather riding atop a live dinosaur, sources confirmed.

The weathered black and white photograph, which Ham says he discovered while rummaging through his attic, features Ham’s ancestor, Chester Cornelius Ham III, seated on the back of a large Triceratops. “This picture serves as a wonderful reminder that dinosaurs and humans roamed our planet together, in the not-so-distant past,” Ham said during an interview.

“In the same way we use the genealogies in Genesis, we can use this picture to count back through my family’s generations and determine exactly how long ago the mighty Triceratops wandered the Earth,” he added.

Ham confirmed that the auction will last exactly six literal days.
HAW! A stab at the genealogies, the "riding dinosaurs" controversy and the cult of Ham, all rolled into one!  See the photo here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

USA Today Presents A Reasonably Balanced View of the Gallup Poll Results

In what could easily have been an exercise in bashing organized religion, USA Today took a stab at the results of the new Gallup poll which reflects changing views of evolution and creationism in a sample of the American public.  Tom Krattenmaker writes:
New polling data show that for the first time in a long time there’s a notable decline in the percentage of Americans — including Christians — who hold to the “Young Earth” creationist view that humankind was created in its present form in the past 10,000 years, evolution playing no part.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in May, the portion of the American public taking this position now stands at 38%, a new low in Gallup’s periodic surveys. Fifty-seven percent accept the validity of the scientific consensus that human beings evolved from less advanced forms of life over millions of years.

Has atheism taken over so thoroughly? No, and that’s why this apparent break in the creationism-vs.-evolution stalemate is significant and even instructive to those in search of creative solutions to our other intractable public arguments.

As the poll reveals, the biggest factor in the shift is a jump in the number of Christians who are reconciling faith and evolution. They are coming to see evolution as their God’s way of creating life on Earth and continuing to shape it today.

As I noted in a previous post, I find this encouraging.  One of the things that has troubled me for quite some time is the large number of kids who come out of Christian homes but then walk away from the faith in college or after.  Anecdotally, I think that a large factor in this is that, when they enter college, (unless they go to a conservative school like Liberty University) they come face to face with the abject lack of evidence for the young earth argument and it angers them and sours them on the faith that they have been taught. 

If, on the other hand, this poll shows that more people are coming face to face with the evidence of an old earth and YET hanging on to their faith, then this is, indeed, cause for great hope. 

Aside: despite Mr. Krattenmaker's statement to the contrary, you do not have to be a religious liberal to accept evolution and an old earth.  He should take a trip to the BioLogos site some day.  Furthermore, not to throw cold water on his hopes but most young earth creationists that I know do not link that perspective with the health care debate.  They only peripherally link it with the climate change debate, as it is.  Neither of those issues are viewed in the context of scriptural interpretation.  There might be a low level of correlation among them but I doubt there is more than that.  The only debate that likely has an R-square even remotely approaching significance is the correlation between creationism and the LGBT issue, for which most Christians (creationist and otherwise) tend to view things more conservatively.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Discovery of Chinese Burial Ground: The Nephilim Are Among Us!

Science Alert (among other outlets) is reporting a news story about a discovery in Shandong Province of a 5,000 year-old graveyard of individuals that are tall, relative to the people currently living in the area.  Peter Dockrill writes:
Archaeologists in China have made a stunning discovery, finding graves bearing the ancient remains of a 'giant' people buried approximately 5,000 year ago.

The bones, uncovered during an excavation in Shandong Province in south-east China, reveal at least one male individual who would have reached 1.9 metres (6 ft, 3 in) in height, along with others measuring 1.8 metres (5 ft, 11 in) tall – making them giants in their time who would have towered over their neolithic contemporaries.
The current residents of the area are the Han Chinese, who are, on average 5'7". There have been numerous migration waves out of steppic Asia over the last ten or so thousand years, so it is not out of the question that one of these groups would have undergone genetic drift if genes for increased height took hold.  So, is this unusual?  Yes.

But then, Breaking Israeli News got a hold of the story.

Here is the headline: Discovery of Biblical 'Nephilim' Remains Opens Questions Over Giants' Roles in End of Days

Here is the first paragraph:
Archaeologists have discovered a collection of 5,000-year old graves in China that contain remarkably tall skeletons, a description strongly reminiscent of the Biblical Nephilim who are believed to also play a significant role in the Final Battle on Mount Zion at the End of Days.

Throughout Eastern China in the Jiaojia village, archaeologists have been excavating the ruins of houses, graves, and sacrificial pits, unearthing more than 200 graves. The evidence of their discovery leads the experts to believe that the males in the village averaged a height of six feet, three inches.
First off, they don't even get their facts straight.  They didn't "average" 6'3".  There was one individual that may have been that tall.  Second, how can the village of Jiaojia be "throughout Eastern [sic] China?"  It is throughout eastern China or it is in the village, but not both.  Then there is this:
The skeletons found in China are consistent with the giants found in the Biblical narrative who were remarkably tall but still able to breed with human women. This is precisely the role Nephilim played in the beginning of the Bible preceding the story of the flood in the time of Noah. The text implies an unnatural sexual relationship between the Nephilim and human women.
The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. Genesis 6:4
According to the text, Nephilim survived the flood and later reappeared in the Land of Israel. When the spies were sent to scout out the land, they were met by Nephilim who were so large that they deeply intimidated the Children of Israel.
First off, no they are not consistent with the size of the Nephilim, unless my son Marcus is a Nephilim also. It is not unheard of, or even necessarily that unusual for people to be that tall.  It is estimated that the Lake Turkana skeleton of the 1.3 million year-old adolescent was close to six feet tall. 

The passages involving the Nephilim are terribly confused in the Bible.  First off, they are mentioned before the flood as being sort of demigods, which God then wipes out in the flood. The scripture is very clear in Genesis 6:
18But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22Noah did everything just as God commanded him. [NIV]
So, no, they couldn't have survived the flood.  Not unless God meant “you, your sons and their wives and, uh, oh, these evil people over here that I am going to hold onto for now.”  The contradictions are stark.  Either God wiped out the evil people in the flood or he didn't.  If he didn't, why did he say that he had?  If he didn't, what was the purpose of the flood?

Now, one might argue that the word “nephilim” simply means ‘very large person,’ but the context from Genesis 6 is clear: these were the offspring of the daughters of men and the sons of God (upper case).  Further, the passage in Numbers 13 reads: “We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim.”  This passage indicates clearly that the Nephilim are a distinct group of individuals and that the term is not a simple description of size.

Now one might argue that they were not part of the flood narrative at all.  As Carol Hill notes, there is no evidence of a world-wide flood. It is possible that Joshua and his spies were simply mistaken about what they saw and that other people groups who were not affected by a more localized flood in the Mesopotamian hydrological basin were in the general area.  Given the specificity of the Genesis narrative, this might be a stretch, though. 

It is difficult to not see the set of passages in Genesis as being within some sort of mythological context.  Unfortunately, the hyperbolic prose from Breaking Israeli News is not atypical of much young earth creationist thought and would not be out of place on the Answers in Genesis web site. 

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Young Earth Creationism: Now Transitional Fossils Are Okay

Recently, Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight produced an excellent book titled Adam and the Genome: Reading Genesis After Genetic Science.  I have just finished this book and it is very well-written and concise.  It is also very persuasive in its presentation of the veracity of evolutionary theory, that there were never just two people alive at one time and that the modern human line extends back more than 200 thousand years.  To bolster their argument, however, Venema and McKnight take the reader through an account of many of the transitional forms in the fossil record.

Well, Answers in Genesis has taken a potshot at the book, in several articles by Nathaniel Jeanson, who has argued that Venema's central thesis, that evolution is strongly supported by explanatory evidence and has predictive power, is flawed.  Here is where things get peculiar. Jeanson writes this, regarding the existence of transitional fossils:
In other words, Genesis 1 says that God created man in His own image. In light of this fact, we would be justified in looking to the products of human design to understand the principles that God might have employed in designing life. Since humans design “transitional forms,” why wouldn’t God do so as well?

Thus, while the existence of “transitional forms” might fail to reject the hypothesis of evolution, it also fails to reject the hypothesis of design. As we observed in a previous post, this is a type-3 experiment—in other words, pseudoscience.

This fact applies to Venema’s additional claim about fossil gaps being filled in. Since both YEC scientists and evolutionists predict the existence of “transitional forms,” it doesn’t matter how many fossil gaps are filled; none of these filled gaps will distinguish between creation and evolution. (Of course, if gaps never were filled in, evolutionists would have a lot of explaining to do, as Darwin’s own writings reveal. In formal terms of a previous article, the gaps in the fossil record represent a type-2 experiment—the existence of gaps would spell trouble for evolution; the lack of gaps would say nothing about either model.) (emphasis added)


For almost a hundred years, one of the steady mantras of the supporters of recent-earth or young-earth creationism has been that there are no such things as transitional fossils.  Animals were created as “kinds” that were, to a large extent, immutable.  Duane Gish, one of the grand old men of YEC used to attempt to poke holes in the idea of transitional fossils with his “Bossie to Blowhole” slide attempting to show the absurdity of the idea that modern-day whales are the descendants of land animals.  I once attended a lecture by Gish in which he used this slide.

To be sure, many argued that microevolution could take place—the subtle changing of gene frequencies and mutations—but species change simply did not happen. Donald Prothero, in his book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, devastatingly showed this to be false.

(Plug: If you have not read this book, you need to.  It is a fantastic trip through the fossil record and the support for evolutionary theory.

The entire study of baraminology is predicated on the fact that there are no transitional fossils, simply created kinds.  Here is AiG's page on the subject, with multiple articles, yet Jeanson's article shows up on the Answers in Genesis web site.  Let's have a look and see what else they have to say about transitional fossils:

Regarding the dinosaur to bird transition: Fossils Fail to Transition from Dinosaur Legs to Bird Wings
The biblical record of history is not only consistent with what we observe in the world but even explains much of what science shows us. The fact that birds appear complete and without evolutionary transitions in the fossil record is, like the rest of actual scientific observations, consistent with God’s Word, which we can confidently trust from the very first verse. 
The Devonian tetrapod transition: The Fossil Record of ‘Early’ Tetrapods: Evidence of a Major Evolutionary Transition?
A robust rationale for concluding that the Upper Devonian tetrapods evolved from a fish ancestor, or that they gave rise to Carboniferous tetrapod lineages, is lacking. It is hoped that this paper may stimulate creationists to develop a fuller understanding of these remarkable creatures and their ecological and geological context.
On the ancestry of whales: It's a 'Whale'
The “evolution” is entirely in the minds of evolutionists, who need to find ancestors for whales, and thus create a “sequence” that isn’t really there. Like lining up horse fossils small to large and proclaiming a sequence, whale evolution is just another fiction.
About gaps in the fossil record: Does a ‘Transitional Form’ Replace One Gap with Two Gaps?
Once the lack of major transitions is acknowledged, one must face the fact that there is no tree of life because there are no roots, no trunk, no boughs, and no medium-sized branches. There are only mutually disjointed bushes, and even these consist exclusively of variation only within the kind, and this is almost invariably within the family unit of traditional taxonomy. The scientific creationist needs to only reject organic evolution before being in hearty agreement with the foregoing cited statements.
As we can see, even the Answers in Genesis site, at least for the last twenty years has had the official position that transitional fossils do not exist.  So, now transitional fossils are okay?  Jeanson's article is an astounding thing to read.  Not only does he dispense with almost a hundred years of creationist “teaching,” without once referring to its existence, he then turns around and accuses Venema of pseudoscience because his hypothesis fails to reject creationist teaching on the existence of transitional fossils. The mendacity of Jeanson's argument is breathtaking.  This is a complete disregard for scientific integrity and honesty.  Libby Anne of Patheos refers to this as exactly what it is: Bullshit.

But Jeanson isn't done.  He then writes something truly idiotic regarding the order of the fossil record:
What about the order of the fossils in the fossil record? The order was actually discovered before Darwin published his book. Therefore, it would be nearly impossible to call the order of the fossils a “prediction” of evolution. Instead, both sides in the origins debate look back on this discovery and incorporate it into their model. Thus, while the order of fossils might fail to reject the hypothesis of evolution, it fails to reject the hypothesis of creation.
This betrays a complete lack of understanding of how the theory of natural selection came about. Darwin's theory predicted that if natural selection was the best explanation for present and past diversity in the fossil record and that there should be increasing order of complexity in the fossil record, leading up to humans and that more transitional forms WOULD be found in the fossil record in the future, a prediction that has been borne out many times over (e.g. Tiktaalik, the evolution of whales).

One more thing: the order of the fossil record has always been a stumbling block for creationists because it is difficult to explain the order in the context of a world-wide flood.  Species that should sink to the bottom, like large dinosaurs and sea creatures, are found three-quarters of the way up the column.  Additionally, there are no humans or their cultural remains found at the bottom, which is what you would expect.  Indeed, the world-wide flood hypothesis is easily rejected based on multiple lines of evidence. 

Ironically, at the tail end of the article, Jeanson writes this:
Why does Venema make these basic scientific mistakes? We observed above that the answers to Venema’s claims have been in the YEC literature for several years. Yet we also observed in a previous post that evolutionists refuse to read YEC literature. And we discovered that they do so because they apparently think that YEC scientists are liars. Naturally, this leads to ignorance of the opposition—and, effectively, to fitting of facts to preconceived ideas.
Gee, I can't imagine why we would think that.

One of the comments on Libby Anne's story, by Deus ex Lasagna, put it best (if sarcastically):
"You don't have enough faith," Jesus told them. "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this goalpost, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible."

- Matthew 17:20, updated for realism

Friday, July 07, 2017

Genetic Data Indicates Another Migration of Archaic Homo sapiens Out of Africa

Ars Technica is running a story based off of a Nature Communications article about a migration of archaic Homo sapiens out of Africa that took place more recently than the one at c. 650 kya that was hypothesized to have given rise to the Neandertals. Cathleen O'Grady writes:
The picture painted by nuclear DNA (nDNA) is that, between 765,000 and 550,000 years ago, our ancestors in Africa diverged into two groups. One group would eventually lead to our own species, although we wouldn't make an appearance until around 200,000 years ago. The other group would lead to Neanderthals and the closely related Denisovans. This proto-Neanderthal/Denisovan group left Africa for Eurasia at some point; sometime around 430,000 years ago, they diverged into distinct Neanderthals and Denisovans.

But the picture painted by mtDNA is different. Neanderthal mtDNA is more similar to modern humans than it is to Denisovan mtDNA. And the divergence date between us and them, when estimated based on mtDNA, is much more recent—between 498,000 and 295,000 years ago.

Some researchers have suggested that you can explain this mixed genetic evidence if Neanderthals interbred with another, more recent African group of humans. This would provide them with different mtDNA after they split from Denisovans. And that, in turn, means that there must have been humans, closely related to our own species, who left Africa for Europe far earlier than previously suspected.
It is not such a stretch to suggest that the recent finds from Jebel Irhoud may be a population related to this mystery population.  The Jebel Irhoud crania show modern characteristics in the face and have been placed in the modern Homo sapiens clade (if provisionally).  Whether or not they have enough traits found in later humans to be the stem group of anatomically modern Homo sapiens is not currently known.  Jebel Irhoud is a hop, skip and a jump to Gibraltar, which we know had already provided an avenue of migration for earlier populations of early Homo which gave rise to Homo heidelbergensis in Europe.

As the story notes, there are remarkable similarities in stone tool technologies between the northern  African Middle Stone Age and the European late Acheulean and early Mousterian tools.  There are Levallois flakes found in both areas, as well as similarly-made knives and points.  This suggests that populations in North Africa had some contact with those of southern Europe.  As we push the age of the modern human clade back in time, these discoveries help to frame the appearance of modern humans and how they interacted with the populations around them.  Exciting times!

The Nature Communications article, Deeply divergent archaic mitochondrial genome provides lower time boundary for African gene flow into Neanderthals can be found here and was free when I read it.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Ken Ham Deflects Blame For Poor Attendance of Ark Encounter

The rumors have been hard to ignore.  What began as an estimate of 2 million visitors to the Ark Encounter by Ken Ham have now sunk to 1.4 million.  First, Ham blamed atheists for running a negative publicity campaign, despite the fact that such a campaign never really took off.  Now, he is blaming the town of Williamstown for not providing the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the visitors to the park.  Raw Story writes:
Ken Ham, the president and CEO of “Christian apologist ministry” Answers in Genesis, penned an op-ed that once again deflects the blame for the failure of his Noah’s Ark replica theme park. This time, Ham argued that the culprit is Williamstown which footed the $92 million bill for the park that now graces their city for not providing enough infrastructure to accommodate visitors to their new “attraction.”

“Williamstown, where the Ark is located, doesn’t have the tourist-related services that Dry Ridge [a neighboring tourist trap] has, so it needs more businesses like hotels and restaurants if it hopes to experience the growth that Dry Ridge is now enjoying,” Ham wrote.

There are a slew of problems with Ham’s reasoning. As Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist points out, Williamstown has received no financial incentives to stoke growth in the area because Ham negotiated a “ridiculously low” 30-year property tax rate for the taxpayer-funded park. Ham is also garnishing his employees’ paychecks to help repay the loans taken out to complete the park.
The other problem is that the county is nearly bankrupt and has seen no impact from the theme park. Ham negotiated a very low (and somewhat peculiar) agreement with the county to get the Park off the ground and the county has seen no economic impact from it.  People go to visit the park but don't go to the local establishments to eat once they have seen it.  This did not go the way the good people of Williamstown wanted it to go.