Thursday, July 12, 2018

New Chinese Material Pushes the Exit From Africa to 2.1 mya

Nature is reporting research on new Chinese material that strongly suggests that the Georgian site of Dmanisi is not the earliest location to which migration out of Africa went.  Here is the abstract:
Considerable attention has been paid to dating the earliest appearance of hominins outside Africa. The earliest skeletal and artefactual evidence for the genus Homo in Asia currently comes from Dmanisi, Georgia, and is dated to approximately 1.77–1.85 million years ago (Ma)1. Two incisors that may belong to Homo erectus come from Yuanmou, south China, and are dated to 1.7 Ma2; the next-oldest evidence is an H. erectus cranium from Lantian (Gongwangling)—which has recently been dated to 1.63 Ma3—and the earliest hominin fossils from the Sangiran dome in Java, which are dated to about 1.5–1.6 Ma4. Artefacts from Majuangou III5 and Shangshazui6 in the Nihewan basin, north China, have also been dated to 1.6–1.7 Ma. Here we report an Early Pleistocene and largely continuous artefact sequence from Shangchen, which is a newly discovered Palaeolithic locality of the southern Chinese Loess Plateau, near Gongwangling in Lantian county. The site contains 17 artefact layers that extend from palaeosol S15—dated to approximately 1.26 Ma—to loess L28, which we date to about 2.12 Ma. This discovery implies that hominins left Africa earlier than indicated by the evidence from Dmanisi.
For the new site sequence data, we don't have any hominin remains so we don't know exactly what these folks looked like but the tools are very primitive.  A section from a companion piece reads thus:
The identity of their makers is, for now, unclear: no hominin bones have been recovered at Shangchen. “We would all love to find a hominin — preferably one with a tool in its hand,” says Dennell. Homo erectus is one possibility, because some of the earliest members of this species were found at Dmanisi. But Dennell thinks that the Shangchen toolmakers belonged to an earlier species in the genus Homo.

Petraglia and Rezek both say that the age of the tools — not to mention the possibility that hominins arrived in China even earlier than the 2.12-million-year mark — suggests that the toolmaker was a species such as Homo habilis. This relatively small-brained hominin is thought to have been confined to Africa between around 2.4 million to 1.4 million years ago.

Jungers holds open the possibility that the Shangchen toolmaker was a species of Australopithecus, a group of more ape-like hominins to which the iconic fossil Lucy belongs. So far, all Australopithecus fossils have been discovered in Africa.
Before his death, Grover Krantz argued for the presence of Australopithecus in East Asia but could never get anyone to come on board with him. Everyone was pretty content to label what was coming out of the ground as Homo erectus.I think it would be a stretch if the hominins from Shangchen were australopithecines since we don't see any advanced species of Australopithecus in East or North Africa between 2 and 2.5 mya.  In fact, Au. boisei drops out around 2.1, likely out-competed by early Homo.

Nonetheless, something was making stone tools in China at 2.1 mya and that is “Yuuuuge” news. 

Saturday, July 07, 2018


Texas has, once again, waded into the waters of the evolution/creation controversy.  The Texas Tribune reports that wording that is claimed to open the door to creationism has been provisionally left in the most recent guidelines for teaching science in the public schools.  Aliyya Swaby writes:
The process began in July, when the board convened a teacher committee that recommended the deletion of several high school science standards, including four controversial biology standards they said would be too complex for students to understand. In their recommendation for deleting a clause requiring students examine explanations on the "sudden appearance" of organism groups in the fossil record, they included the note, "Not enough time for students to master concept. Cognitively inappropriate for 9th grade students."

Republican board member Barbara Cargill led the charge Wednesday to keep three of those four standards in some form — arguing that they would actually help students better understand the science and keep teachers away from creationist ideas.
As I wrote a bit back, Barbara Cargill has, in recent years, been less vocal about her support for creationism and intelligent design, but has always supported the range of Wedge Strategy ideas promoted by the Intelligent Design movement, including “teach the controversy,” “teach the full range of scientific views,” and teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.    

The board members have also bought into the idea that fossil forms appear in the geological  record fully-formed, a notion completely debunked by Don Prothero

Friday, July 06, 2018

Todd Friel: The Holy Spirit Taught Them That the Earth Was Young

This is heresy.  Straight up.

Sorry for the light posting. I have been extremely busy and have not had time to devote to it.  I am taking a break from my hectic schedule to post on an AiG article that is one of the most offensive things i have read in some time.  The title of the post is How Do I Stay Humble When I Know I’m Right? and is written by Todd Friel, who has no biography on the web site, so we have absolutely no idea what his qualifications are. He also fronts a web site called Wretched, which, likewise, gives us no information than we already had.  So, why has this post made me a hateful person?  Here's why.

Friel recounts the story of Bob, who gets stuck in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson and has to be rescued.  Apparently, Bob is not sufficiently thankful to God for his good fortune and so Todd has this to say:
You would think Bob is either very forgetful or very arrogant. Bob was not the author of his good fortune; he was merely the recipient. The Apostle Paul would rightly ask him, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (See 1 Corinthians 4:7.)

Do you know why godly creation scientists believe God created the world in six 24-hour days?

They are brilliant.
They have PhDs.
They understand the plain meaning of Genesis 1 and 2.

While all three of those options may be true, the real reason they know the earth is young is that the Holy Spirit taught them the truth.
“The Holy Spirit taught them the truth.”  That has to be one of the most arrogant, myopic idiotic things I have yet read from Answers in Genesis and given the quality of the material on the site, that is saying a lot.  “The Holy Spirit taught them the truth.”  

In the last few years, Answers in Genesis has become much more strident in its position that if you don't accept a six-day creation, you are not a Christian.  This is one more piece that promotes this nonsense.  The implication is that if I think the earth is not six thousand years old, I don't have the Holy Spirit.  Here is a short, non-exhaustive list of other people who, apparently, don't/didn't have the Holy Spirit:
  • Billy Graham
  • Francis Collins
  • Hugh Ross
  • Pat Robertson
  • Davis Young
  • Carol Hill
  • N.T. Wright
  • J.I Packer
  • John Polkinghorne
  • B.B. Warfield
  • William Jennings Bryan
  • Tim Keller 
  • John Stott
That list is not even remotely exhaustive.  You might recognize some of the people on that list as being some of the most influential Christian thinkers and evangelists that the world has ever seen, and all of whom can think circles around Todd Friel.

Joel Edmund Anderson has written about the heretical notions in Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.  Here is yet another example.  Friel claims that the Holy Spirit has given special knowledge just to young earth creationists that no one else has. 

The people in the list above have/had the Holy Spirit and it guided them to lives of evangelism, helping people come to Christ and living inspired Christian lives. Why didn't the Holy Spirit correct their thinking about the age of the earth?

Now I am quite convinced that the Holy Spirit does guide us and nudge us in certain directions, such as “Maybe you should join the mission field,” or “Go reach out to that person over there.” On the other hand, the Holy Spirit telling someone that the earth is young is like telling someone that, when Jesus wasn't preaching the gospel, he was strangling cats. There is no biblical evidence that He did any such thing, just as there is no biblical evidence that the earth is “young.”  While it is true that some interpret the Primeval History as being literal, many, many people of great faith have wrestled for thousands of years to understand exactly what those scriptures mean and I am convinced that God honors those who earnestly struggle with those passages but have faith in Him and his son. 

I don't know who taught those brilliant people that the earth was young but I don't think it was the Holy Spirit, and Todd Friel could use a dose of humility. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Arizona: More Whack-a-Mole

Now, Arizona educators are considering watering down the definition of evolution in the state curriculum guidelines.  AP has the story:
The Arizona Department of Education is considering changes to school science standards, including instances when it may remove or alter references to evolution. The state’s superintendent of public instruction said the proposed changes reflect that parts of evolution are only theory.

The department has replaced some references to evolution with words like “biological diversity” or added qualifiers to the word, according to a draft of the proposed changes.

The standards focus on core science and engineering ideas that teachers then use to form curriculum for public school districts and charter schools, according to the department.
“Biological diversity” is not evolution. It is biological diversity. Evolution is descent with modification from a common ancestor. By redefining evolution this way the good folks at the Arizona Department of Education demonstrate that they have no idea what biological evolution actually is.  The article continues:
“What we know is true and what we believe might be true but is not proven and that’s the reality,” Douglas said. “Evolution has been an ongoing debate for almost 100 years now. There is science to back up parts of it, but not all of it.”
Which parts, exactly? If you cannot even define it correctly, why should we accept that you know which parts cannot be backed up?  More bureaucrats sticking their noses in where they don't belong.  Hopefully this will not come to pass. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fred Clark on the Cruelty of Young Earth Creationism

Ken Ham is fond of saying that the reason that many young people are falling away from the faith is because they have been indoctrinated into "billions of years" thinking.  They are quite clear about how important this line of thought is:
What is at stake here is the authority of Scripture, the character of God, the doctrine of death, and the very foundation of the gospel. If the early chapters of Genesis are not true literal history, then faith in the rest of the Bible is undermined, including its teaching about salvation and morality.
The problem is that when many young people are launched into the real world, they come face to face with a mountainous amount of counter-evidence that leads to a real crisis in faith. Fred Clark puts it thus:
Young-earth creationism is a cruelly efficient machine for manufacturing spiritual crisis. It has created more atheists than all of Richard Dawkins’ books put together. It exchanges the truth of God for a lie — a lie that’s spectacularly indefensible because none of the people caught up in that lie lives on a young Earth. They live, instead, on this one — this ancient Earth that confronts its inhabitants with its vast and incomprehensible oldness at every turn.

The “evangelical worldview” Nelle Smith describes binds that unsustainable lie to everything else that evangelical Christians believe: the existence of a benevolent God, the belief that life has meaning, the love of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. All of this is bound together with the lie in a constantly repeated and reinforced if/then construction. If the Earth is older than 10,000 years, then God does not love you. If the Earth is older than 10,000 years, then all meaning is illusion. If the Earth is older than 10,000 years, then Christ is not risen and your faith is also vain and you are of all people most to be pitied
I have seen this play out in families where children encountered the evidence for evolution and an old earth and it destroyed their faith. In one instance, a teenager who, after years of being in a YEC homeschool environment and subsequently walking away from her faith, said to their parents: “I wish you had told me more about evolution.”

If we tell our children about the love of God, the salvation through Jesus, the need to live out a Godly life, and that the central tenets of the faith can be found in the early creeds, that should be enough.  We should let them have the freedom to work out the importance of the early chapters of Genesis, to discover whether or not it is important to believe that the flood was world-wide or localized (or if it happened at all).  These questions are not an indictment of the early chapters of Genesis, simply a recognition that they were written to a different people with different customs in a time thousands of years ago.

As many people have noted: the bible was written for us but it was not written to us.  It was written to people who had no understanding of geological, cosmological or biological scientific principles because those things were unimportant to their faith and hadn't been discovered yet.  If they weren't important to the faith of those people, why should they be important to ours?

Ken Ham and other young earth creationists of his mindset are setting people up for an incredible let-down.  By linking the belief in a young earth to the rest of the faith, they are not just promoting a stark dichotomy but putting themselves into a corner by requiring that the science support their position.  This is what Joel Edmund Anderson picked up on: science then becomes the ultimate arbiter of the faith.  If Ham is going to tell people that the young earth position is integral to their faith, then the earth better dang well be 6,000 years old.

The problem is that it is not.  Hugh Ross, no evolutionist, once wrote that, after careful scrutiny, he discovered that there is not a single defensible argument for a young earth.  Worse, over 95% of practicing scientists will tell you the same thing.  Of the remaining five percent, many, like David Menton, writing for AiG, often write in fields of which they know nothing.

In the Menton post linked above, I eventually argued that people like David Menton  (and by extension, Ken Ham) were an asset to the kingdom.  Now I am not so sure.  How can those who place such a weight and potential stumbling block on Christians be an asset to anyone?   Further, how is such a position not heresy?  It links the core tenets of the faith to a position that has a time depth of a little over a hundred years.

The young earth creationism taught by most home schoool curricula is straight out of the works of Henry Morris, which was simply repackaged George McCready Price, in turn based on the “visions” and “special knowledge” of  Seventh-Day Adventist prophetess Ellen G. White. In other words, none of it is actually in the Bible.  It is often wild extrapolations on what, according to them, must be true.The rest is simply attacks on mainstream science. 

Answers in Genesis is a very popular site in Christian circles and, while it is certainly true that there are many Christians out there who are perfectly willing to accept that there are different ways to interpret the Primeval History that don't have salvation implications, Ken Ham's voice is very loud and he is doing more harm than good.  

Thursday, May 17, 2018

World Religion News: Human Evolution Exhibit Censored to Avoid Offending Ultra-Orthodox Jews

It seems that even Judaism has a wing that rejects evolution.  Gee, who knew.  World Religion News has the story:
Authorities of Jerusalem's Natural History Museum frequently covers their human evolution exhibit under a sheet to keep the ultra-Orthodox visitors from being offended . The display title written in Hebrew reads, “The beginning of human evolution and culture.” The exhibit provides in detail the gradual and slow transformation from ape to modern homo sapien. It has a number of skulls, ancient hunting tools, and models along with written explanations. The matter came under scrutiny when a member of the museum staff asked a visitor to leave when she asked the authorities why they censor the display. Chaya David, the visitor in question, said she was shocked and saddened by the incident, terming it not only unwarranted but also not legal.
I sure hope it doesn't read “Homo sapien.” That binomial is never singular. Very early in my graduate career, I put that in a paper and my advisor fried me alive. Beyond that, though, if the story is accurate, why not inform the museum visitor why the display had been covered?  The story also notes:
Ultra-Orthodox Jews do not regard the scientific evolutionary theory as valid. They accept the Biblical version as the valid one. The Bible states humans were created differently from other animals. The traditional reading of the Holy Bible states that the world came into existence 5,778 years back.
Rabbit Hole: One unusual point about this story: 5778 years back puts creation at 3670 B.C. This is some 334 years after the figure that was concocted by Bishop Ussher. It is further important to note that Ussher's date was not the only one around. Everybody from Bede to Newton had their own estimates, all being within about 300 years of each other. Given that they were all working from the same source, what accounts for the discrepancy? Answers in Genesis is happy to provide the answer:
The testimony of so many ancient writers seems to confirm the antiquity (extreme age) of the use of the Julian year—that is, three hundred and sixty-five days with the addition of one extra day every four years. Hence, Ussher had very good reasons for selecting the length of the year that he did. In fact, modern scholarship recognizes this. In 1940 W. G. Waddell translated the works of Manetho, an Egyptian priest of the third century BC, and has the following translation for a portion of the work: “Saites added 12 hours to the month, to make its length 30 days; he added 6 days to the year, which thus comprised of 365 days.”
Only 4.5 billion years off.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

How Intelligent Was Homo naledi?

Discover Magazine (and other outlets) are running a story which questions how important cranial size is to overall intelligence.  The focus of this inquiry is Homo naledi, the small-brained hominin that is now thought to be no more than 200ky old.  Lee Berger, who was on the team that discovered Homo naledi has always argued that, because of the comparative difficulty of navigating the cave, that she was placed in the Rising Star Chamber intentionally.  At issue is the brain size:
When it comes to brain volume, previous research established that Homo naledi‘s was 465-560 milliliters. (In today’s study, the authors acknowledge those earlier numbers, based on virtual reconstructions, but also perform their own physical reconstructions and measure the volume with a water displacement method, arriving at a similar range of 460-555 mL.)
This is very small. As the authors note, contemporary hominins possessed brains well over 1000 cc at this point. It was the complexity of H. naledi's brain that surprised people:
Homo naledi‘s inferior frontal and lateral orbital gyri were organized notably more like that of other members of the genus Homo than that of australopiths. These are parts of the brain associated with complex behaviors, such as communication, planning and tool-making, that are particularly important in our lineage.

Finding Homo naledi‘s brain was structurally similar to that of larger-brained members of the genus tells us two important things. First, it means Homo naledi itself was likely capable of more complex behavior than australopiths with a similar brain volume but different brain structure. Second, it torpedoes the old notion that Homo brains grew steadily in size and complexity until reaching the evolutionary pinnacle that is Homo sapiens (/sarcasm, just a touch).
As we discover that early Homo was behaviorally more complex than we thought, it also forces us to rethink what went on later in hominin evolution and re-evaluate evidence of complexity in H. erectus and archaic H. sapiens

Friday, May 11, 2018

Truth is Stranger than Fiction: Galapagos Creationism Center to be Built

The Adventist News Network is reporting that a new creationism center will be built on the Galapagos Islands:
A large incentive project for scientific research will soon become a reality in the Galapagos Archipelago, located 1,200 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador. Construction on the Creationist Center, maintained by the Adventist Church through its institutions, will begin in August. Geovanny Izquierdo, president of the Church in Ecuador, confirmed the date for construction this week. The 741 square meter piece of land is located in the center of Santa Cruz, the most populated island in the archipelago. The building will include, initially, the Creationist Center, some administrative rooms for the Loma Linda Adventist College and new headquarters for the Central Adventist Church.
There is something deeply ironic about this. Of course, it wasn't just the Galapagos Islands that allowed Darwin to develop the theory of Natural Selection. His travels to Patagonia also paved the way for it. Nonetheless, this is almost like the U.S. presence in Guantanamo Bay or an embassy on foreign soil.  They will certainly be viewed as a curiosity by the incoming scientists.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

What in the Hay-ull is Wrong with These People??

Yankees pitcher German was just yanked in the top of the seventh while throwing a no-hitter.  I hate these managers!!!!  In 1972, Preston Gomez yanked a pitcher throwing a no-hitter and got no end of crap from the baseball writers.  But NO, we have to bow to the god of the almighty pitch count!!  The pitch count is All, save the Pitch count!!!  Does it not occur to these knuckleheads that the fans might want to see a no-hitter?  Does it not occur to these knuckleheads that the pitcher might want the opportunity to throw one?  a no-hitter is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event for a pitcher.  To rob him of this opportunity is unconscionable. 


Update:  I would hate be someone that roots against the Yankees.  After German got removed, Betances gave up three runs on three hits and then holder gave up a run, leaving the Yankees in a 4-0 hole going into the bottom of the eighth.  What did they do?  They scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth and won it in the bottom of the ninth on a three-run walk-off homerun.  They deserved to lose but won, no thanks to Aaron Boone. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New Laetoli Footprints Demonstrate Full Bipedality

A story running in Newsweek and the Washington Post (and other outlets, presumably), details research into the newly discovered fossil footprints at Laetoli dated to 3.6 mya that clearly show a modern human gait.
Two sites in Laetoli, Tanzania, feature footprints of human ancestors who lived about 3.6 million years ago. They were members of the genus Australopithecus. That's the genus of “Lucy,” the 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor whose fossilized bones were discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.

David Raichlen, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Arizona, has studied the Laetoli footprints and compared them to footprints made by human volunteers in laboratory settings. He examined footprints of individuals walking normally and also those walking with bent knees and bent hips. (Scientists who study locomotion use the acronym BKBH). The Laetoli footprints more closely match modern human footprints.

“Upright, humanlike bipedal walking goes back 4 to 5 million years,” Raichlen told The Washington Post in advance of a symposium on the evolution of human locomotion, which took place Sunday at the Experimental Biology 2018 conference in San Diego.
This dovetails with the recent findings that Ardipithecus, a hominin dated to around 4.4 mya, likely could travel equally well on the ground or in the trees.  Oddly, the WaPo article doesn't mention this.  

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Slander of “Darwinism”

Kenneth Miller has written yet another extraordinary essay, this one on the nature of the term “Darwinism” and how it is pejoratively used by those insistent on trashing evolutionary theory.  He writes:
He could have just said he didn’t believe in evolution, or that evolution had flaws. Or, he could have said that a book with a whole unit on evolution was just too much. But William Buckingham, of the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania, didn’t use the “E” word when he explained his objections to the biology textbook selected by the science teachers at Dover High School. Instead, he invoked a term that didn’t even appear in that textbook. Prentice Hall’s Biology: The Living Science, he claimed, “was laced with Darwinism from beginning to end.” Surely, he must have thought, “Darwinism” was a disqualifying slander that everyone could understand.
Buckingham, who was singled out for special re-probation by Judge Jones at the end of the trial, was at once ignorant and pejorative.  He was ignorant in that Darwin was not the only one to develop the idea of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace being the other one. He meant to be pejorative (in the same way that all of the Discovery Institute writers intend) because he knew that the term “Darwinism” carries with it the baggage of animus and atheism.As Miller notes, when an entire branch of science is referred to by its founder's name, then it takes on the air of an ideology, rather than a legitimate field of study.  The ideology can then be characterized as agenda-driven, attempting to tear out the heart of morality and decency.  None of this, of course, is true but the perception is rampant.  Miller also points out something of which I hadn't thought:
The overuse of Darwin’s own name facilitates another line of attack, by pretending that the field relies entirely on Darwin’s own work, fashioned in an age before the modern sciences of genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology emerged to confirm and expand his ideas. This allows the pretense that evolution is a stolid, unchanging field, with few new ideas that might refresh its 19th century heritage. Any scientist would scoff at this, of course, knowing the vigor that new discoveries constantly infuse into evolutionary biology. But to laypeople, unfamiliar with the rapid pace of scientific discovery, this can be a persuasive argument.
This would be no different from referring to modern physics as “Newtonism”  despite the vast advances that have been made since Newton's time.  Miller laments that these perceptions are hard to fight against because they appeal to emotions rather than empirical thought. Further, there are those of the atheist perspective who argue that, as humans, we are no better or special than any other species on the planet.   For this, though, he has an answer:
We are the children of evolution in every sense, part of Darwin’s fabled “tangled bank.” We must never forget that. But we must also remember that we are the only creatures to emerge from that thicket and make sense of it all. “Darwinism” does not diminish us. Rather, it puts the human experiment into a truly scientific perspective. We are not just hairless bipedal primates. We are creatures capable of the fugues of Bach, the verses of Yeats, the stories of Twain, the creations of Dalí and, for that matter, the mathematics of Gödel, Ramanujan and Turing.

In contemplating the lessons of evolution for our species and our culture, this is how we should overcome the mindless use of “Darwinism” as a slur. Some may feel demeaned by our evolutionary heritage, but I would argue that the more appropriate emotions are joy and delight. Joy that we are approaching a genuine understanding of the world in which we live, and delight at being the very first stirrings of true consciousness in the vastness of the cosmos. Far from diminishing us, knowing the details of Adam’s journey ennobles each of us as a carrier of something truly precious—the genetic, biological, and cultural heritage of life itself. Evolution describes not the death of Adam, but his triumph. That is the great truth of our story.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Kent Hovind is Baaaacccckkkkkk!

Hemant Mehta writes for Patheos that Kent Hovind is back in the news.  You kind of have to read through the vitriol a bit:
In 2009, the IRS took control of Dinosaur Adventure Land, Kent Hovind‘s Creationist theme park in Pensacola, Florida, so that they could sell it off and recover the money Hovind owed for committing tax fraud. (It was a sad day for, like, three people.) Hovind was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was eventually released in 2015.
While there were attempts by Hovind’s son to buy back the property, that never worked out and the park has officially been closed since 2009.
You know what that means.
Hoving [sic] has built another Dinosaur Adventure Land! This one is in Repton, Alabama, and the grand opening takes place this Saturday.
That is not really what got Mehta's attention, however. It was this:

In the bottom left hand corner  is an image of Jesus holding a velociraptor as if it were a cute, cuddly kitten.  In the video, he speaks of evolution as being dumb and evil and “if you fell for that lie, we are here to show you the truth.”  The accompanying video is difficult to watch, as it largely contains Hovind's peculiar interpretation of  the book of Revelation, which is even murky to scholars who have been studying it for centuries.  That doesn't stop Hovind. 

I was never sympathetic to the case that got him thrown in gaol for a few years, but it is clearly evident that prison has not dulled his enthusiasm or oddness. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ardipithecus May Not Have Been Entirely a Facultative Biped After All

In a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, several researchers have concluded, using 3D morphometric analysis have discovered that Ardipithecus ramidus, while still having facultative (didn't have to but could) bipedalism, when it did walk, its bipedal gait was nearly human.  From the abstract:
We show that hamstring-powered hip extension during habitual walking and climbing in living apes and humans is strongly predicted, and likely constrained, by the relative length and orientation of the ischium. Ape pelves permit greater extensor moments at the hip, enhancing climbing capability, but limit their range of hip extension, resulting in a crouched gait. Human pelves reduce hip extensor moments but permit a greater degree of hip extension, which greatly improves walking economy (i.e., distance traveled/energy consumed). Applying these results to fossil pelves suggests that early hominins differed from both humans and extant apes in having an economical walking gait without sacrificing climbing capability. Ardipithecus was capable of nearly human-like hip extension during bipedal walking, but retained the capacity for powerful, ape-like hip extension during vertical climbing. Hip extension capability was essentially human-like in Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus africanus, suggesting an economical walking gait but reduced mechanical advantage for powered hip extension during climbing.
This positions Ardipithecus as the classic intermediate in terms of bipedal locomotion.Although there are many traits in Australopithecus afarensis that are still transitional in terms of the rib cage, dentition and aspects of the hip, it is clear that the major adaptations for bipedalism were in place nearly a million years earlier.  This also suggests that it is not out of the realm of possibility that the fossil footprints in Crete really do reflect a bipedal hominin.  At the risk of positing heresy, the fact remains that we really don't know exactly where hominins first appeared.  This study also reinforced the distinct separation between apes and humans in terms of iliac shape, and that this split must have taken place even further back in time that we have supposed.

The Independent has a news story on this here.  One of the authors, Herman Pontzer remarks:
“It kicks us out of this old paradigm of thinking about human evolution,”...“In that old picture that is everywhere where you have the evolution of man going from crouching thing to upright thing to a human – as much as we have known that is not right, I still think people have it in their heads.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

New Homo sapiens Fossil Found in Arabia

A new fossil finger has been unearthed as Arabia that purports to be 87 ky old.  UPI is on it.
The fossil was found buried beneath the sands of the Nefud Desert, which today stretches across the Northern Arabia Peninsula. The site where the fossil was found was once home to a freshwater lake.
Around the time humans showed up, a climatic shift brought monsoons to the region, spawning grasslands. Animal fossils suggest antelope grazed the land and hippos swam in the ancient lake.
Researchers measured ratios of radioactive elements in the finger bone and compared the ratios to those found in animal fossils with confirmed dates. The analysis confirmed the age of the human fossil, the oldest found in Arabia.
"This discovery for the first time conclusively shows that early members of our species colonized an expansive region of southwest Asia and were not just restricted to the Levant," Huw Groucutt, a researcher with the University of Oxford and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said in a news release.
How do we know it was from Homo sapiens?
Among these finds was a well preserved and small fossil, just 3.2 cm long, which was immediately recognized as a human finger bone. The bone was scanned in three dimensions and its shape compared to various other finger bones, both of recent Homo sapiens individuals and bones from other species of primates and other forms of early humans, such as Neanderthals. The results conclusively showed that the finger bone, the first ancient human fossil found in Arabia, belonged to our own species.
I do not have access to this article as neither the lab nor UT has a subscription to Nature: Ecology & Evolution. Aside: Given our focus on materials science and computing, I kind of get why ORNL does not have a subscription.  UT, not so much.  This journal should be in their wheelhouse.  According to the abstract, the find is securely dated and:
The palaeoenvironmental context of Al Wusta demonstrates that H. sapiens using Middle Palaeolithic stone tools dispersed into Arabia during a phase of increased precipitation driven by orbital forcing, in association with a primarily African fauna.
Maddenly, there is no information in the abstract about the morphology of the find, especially given that Neandertal and early anatomically modern phalanges are remarkably similar. I am sure they were able to differentiate it, but I would sure like to know how.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Babylon Bee: Ken Ham Arrested For Vandalizing Grand Canyon Signs To Read ‘JUST 4400 YEARS OLD’

I love the Babylon Bee.  They will skewer anything.  This post announces that Ken Ham was caught vandalizing signs in the Grand Canyon:
Dozens of informational signs throughout the park tell visitors that the Colorado River carved the canyon over the past six million years—but Ham allegedly painted over these signs and wrote “CANYON JUST 4400 YEARS OLD—WAKE UP!” national park rangers said at a press conference.

“We found Ham hiding behind a large rock formation with several cans of spray paint and a Sharpie after seeing his Facebook posts and pinging his phone to determine his exact location,” one ranger said. “All evidence points to this being a one-man operation. Pretty much all of our visitor signs were ‘corrected’ by Ham—even the big one at the main entrance.”
If you hadn't figured out that this was satire, the last sentence in the article should have been a big clue:
At publishing time, Ham had miraculously escaped captivity and was seen painting over signs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
The really funny thing about this post by the Bee is that it elicited a correction by the site “Business 2 Community,” which ran this:
Ken Ham, a spokesman for creationist, being arrested for vandalizing the Grand Canyon National Park signs to read “Just 4,400 Years Old” is satirical news. There is no truth to a report that an Australian Christian fundamentalist and young Earth creationist living in the United States found himself in trouble after he painted over signs at the country’s popular national park.

In case you don’t know, Ham is the president of Answers in Genesis, a Creationist apologetics organization that operates the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.
As of now, the site that Ham runs, Answers in Genesis, has yet to respond to the article.In fact, as nearly as I can tell, they have not acknowledged the existence of the Babylon Bee, whatsoever. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Ken Ham: ‘If Christians don’t believe in a literal Genesis, they have no foundation for their doctrine’

Ken Ham gave a lengthy interview in The Christian Chronicle, conducted by Bobby Ross, Jr., in which he outlined why he believes in a young earth and a literal reading of Genesis.  Is he a “young earth creationist?”:
When people say, “Are you a young Earth creationist?” I want people to also understand that, you know, the reason we believe what we do is not because we’re young Earth creationists. It’s because we’re biblical creationists. As a consequence of taking the Bible as written, we believe in a young Earth. But we’re not young Earth first.

In other words, young Earth is not the issue. It’s just a consequence of the way we take Scripture. … We’re biblical creationists; we’re all about the Bible; we’re all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This answer would be perhaps a tad more believable if a large chunk of the AiG website weren't geared toward dismantling old-earth and evolution arguments. The front page of the site contained, just a minute ago, no fewer than three articles on how to demonstrate young earth creationism.

Ham also prefers the term “biblical creationism” to ”young earth creationism,” suggesting that there is only one way to look at how God created the universe and only one way to interpret the Genesis creation stories (there are two). In their writings about this, there is a continual tendency to conflate the notions of a "biblical" creationism with a literal reading of the scripture.  They are not the same thing.

Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis has a post on what church thinkers through the ages thought about the creation days and the writer of the post, James Mook, manages to contradict himself within the space of two paragraphs.  First he writes:
In its first 16 centuries the church held to a young earth. Earth was several thousand years old, was created quickly in six 24-hour days, and was later submerged under a worldwide flood.
One paragraph later, we get this:
The Church Fathers (AD 100–600) were theologians after the apostles. Based on Scripture, they opposed naturalistic theories of origins. Some, including Clement of Alexandria (c. 152–217), Origen (c. 185–254), and Augustine (c. 354–430), interpreted Genesis 1 allegorically. To them, the six days were a symbolic presentation of God’s creation in one instant.
If they were a symbolic presentation of God's creation in one instant, then they clearly did not think that the creation played out over six 24-hour days. It is, further, unfair to argue that the church fathers were young earth creationists because they thought the earth was young.  Everybody at the time thought the earth was young. There was no evidence to the contrary.  Now there is, plenty of it.

When asked about whether or not the age of creation is a salvation issue, he appears to say one thing but mean another. 
Nowhere in the Bible does it connect salvation to the age of the Earth. Right? If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. Romans 10:9. In other words, salvation is conditioned on faith in Christ. Faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone.

And so, then people say to me, “So, you can believe in millions of years and still be a Christian?” Well, I know many Christians who believe in millions of years. It’s not a salvation issue.

And then if people say to me, “So, it doesn’t matter?” I would say, “Yes, it does matter.” And the reason I say “Yes, it does matter” is because, ultimately, it’s an authority issue. In other words, where you get the millions of years from, you don’t get that in Scripture.

Not only that, but if you’re going to believe in millions of years, the idea of millions of years really came out of atheistic and deistic naturalism of the 1700s and 1800s, from people who wanted to explain the fossil record and natural processes without God. So, the fossil record was supposedly laid down before man. Now, the fossil record is a record of death. Now in the fossil record, there’s lots of examples of diseases and bones like of dinosaurs, cancer, arthritis, other diseases.
He is absolutely correct that nowhere in the bible is the age of the earth connected with salvation. Score one for Ham. The problems begin with what he says afterwards.  What he continues with reveals a very false understanding of the history of science and the denigration of the work of some very devout men of God.

He claims that you don't get “millions of years” from scripture.  The problem is that you don't necessarily get six consecutive 24-hour days from scripture, either.  That idea was added by Wycliffe, in the late 1300s.  As pointed out above and by many different theologians, many of the early church fathers did not interpret the creation days literally.  These are people that lived within the first three centuries after Christ, who were integral in spreading the gospel.  And, somehow, I am supposed to believe that they are wrong and Ken Ham is right?  This is not an authority issue at all.  This is an issue of interpretation.

Additionally, with his “millions of years” quote, Ham is making a point of demonizing the people that earnestly tried to understand how the world worked and what clues it yielded about how it was created and when.  Many of the researchers who worked out the geological layers in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds such as Georges Cuvier, Adam Sedgwick and William Buckland were strong Bible-believing Christians who wrestled with the data that they uncovered, in an effort to understand how it fit with God's word.  Cuvier, who developed the idea of catastrophism, concluded that there had been many world-wide floods over a long period of time, of which Noah's flood was the last.  In his farewell speech to the Geological Society of Britain, Sedgwick, who was ordained Anglican minister and thorough evangelical said this about the great flood:
Bearing upon this difficult question, there is, I think, one great negative conclusion now incontestably established -- that the vast masses of diluvial gravel, scattered almost over the surface of the earth, do not belong to one violent and transitory period. It was indeed a most unwarranted conclusion, when we assumed the contemporaneity of all the superficial gravel on the earth. We saw the clearest traces of diluvial action, and we had, in our sacred histories, the record of a general deluge. On this double testimony it was, that we gave a unity to a vast succession of phenomena, not one of which we perfectly comprehended, and under the name diluvium, classed them all together.

To seek the light of physical truth by reasoning of this kind, is, in the language of Bacon, to seek the living among the dead, and will ever end in erroneous induction. Our errors were, however, natural, and of the same kind which lead many excellent observers of a former century to refer all the secondary formations of geology to the Noachian deluge. Having been myself a believer, and, to the best of my power, a propagator of what I now regard as a philosophic heresy, and having more than once been quoted for opinions I do not now maintain, I think it right, as one of my last acts before I quit this Chair, thus publicly to read my recantation.
Since Sedgwick's time, the evidence for a world-wide flood has not gotten any better. In fact, as Carol Hill, another Christian geologist points out, there is no evidence for it, whatsoever. For Ham to denigrate the work of these scientific giants as being the products of atheistic and deistic naturalism is not just incorrect, it is insulting.

It also reveals that he knows very little about the history of geology.  Further, he knew very little about the lives of the people he was denigrating.  Sedgwick remained an evangelical Christian throughout his life, as did Hutton and Cuvier. 

Theologians and scholars have wrestled with the Genesis creation accounts for centuries in an effort to try to understand them and their subtlety and breadth.  Ken Ham reduces them to a flat, bare bones account that holds little more than a sterile textbook.  It is a grand story of God's creation.  Whether it happened in six days or over the course of four billion years is irrelevant.

I would encourage you to read the whole interview, in which Ham pretty much condemns every view of creation that does not comport with his.  This, above all, is what makes Ham controversial.  He is, perhaps, the most divisive person in Christendom. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Modern Humans Interbred with Two Groups of Denisovans

There is now more evidence that were were “one big happy family.”  Here is a short recap:
Beginning around 1.8 million years ago, a hominin form called Homo erectus left Africa for points east, eventually settling in Indonesia and China. These early humans were characterized by having heads roughly ¾ the size of modern humans with very large brow ridges and with their widest point just above the ears. They were also the first humans to conquer fire and perfect hunting.
Then, at some point, between 300 and 500 thousand years ago, a population group migrated from North Africa into Europe and, eventually into East Asia. The European branch became the Neandertals, between 200 and 250 thousand years ago, and the East Asian group eventually became the Denisovans. The Denisovans then spread east and south, eventually mixing with other populations, some of which were the precursors of the Melanesians and native Australians. The bulk of the Neandertals hunkered down in Europe and tried to outlast the bitter cold of not one but two glaciations.  Despite this, while often pilloried in cultural literature as being half-witted brutes, Neandertals were a very complex society, with advanced weaponry and hunting behavior, grave goods, habitation structures and who practiced ritual behavior. Some populations of Neandertals eventually  expanded their range into Western Asia and steppic Russia and interbred with the Denisovans.  Unfortunately, as a culture, we know next to nothing about the Denisovans. 
Roughly 100 thousand years after this, there was yet another wave of migration, between 100 and 60 thousand years ago, of early modern humans from North Africa, who moved north and East mixing with both the Neandertals in Europe and, perhaps, Western Asia and the Denisovans in East Asia.
And now we learn that the modern humans arriving from Africa interbred with not one but two groups of Denisovans.  From Gizmodo:
We know so little about the Denisovans that they don’t even have a formal scientific name, though scientists are considering Homo sp. Altai or Homo sapiens ssp. Denisova. Indeed, as these names suggest, Denisovans were a branch of humans, having diverged from Neanderthals some 200,000 years ago. We know this because the Altai fossil yielded a near-complete genome, which scientists have been poring over since it was first sequenced in 2010.

But in addition to the Neanderthal ancestry, genetic anthropologists also learned that Denisovan DNA lives on in modern humans, especially among Oceanians and East and South Asians. This means anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens, must’ve interbred with a population of Denisovans. But as new research published today in the science journal Cell points out, our ancestors mated with Denisovans on at least two different historical occasions. So the traces of Denisovan DNA embedded in the genomes of some people living today originated from at least two distinct Denisovan populations.
Given Palaeolithic population densities, this is not surprising.The research seems to indicate that there were early modern human/Denisovan mixes in both Asia and Oceania.  What this means is that, once the Denisovans and Neandertals split, the Denisovans migrated east and northeast (as humans will do) and established population centers in these areas.  When the modern humans came (Huh.  I wonder what is over that hill?  Oh look, humans...sort of.) it made sense to intermingle with them.  We already know that Neandertals and modern humans could, and did, mix.  It is, absent any knowledge to the contrary, reasonable to assume that the Denisovans looked mostly modern human. 

Interestingly, the research seems to indicate that the rate of interbreeding of Neandertals to early moderns was much more limited than with moderns and Denisovans.  This is at variance with other studies (and fossil material) which seems to indicate more sustained contact.  It would be nice if we could find a bit more fossil evidence to get a handle on what at least one Denisovan looked like. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Human Evolution, Walking and FoxP1

The Smithsonian has an interesting article on hox genes and how a discovery may inform about how walking came about:
What does a mouse have in common with a cartilaginous fish known as a little skate?

At first glance, you might think not much. One’s fluffy, with big ears and whiskers; the other breathes with gills and ripples its way around the ocean. One is a lab animal or household pest; the other is most likely to be seen in the wild, or the bottom of a shallow pool at an aquarium. But it turns out these two vertebrates have something crucial in common: the ability to walk. And the reason why could change the way we think about the evolution of walking in land animals—including humans.

A new genetic study from scientists at New York University reveals something surprising: Like mice, little skates possess the genetic blueprint that allows for the right-left alternation pattern of locomotion that four-legged land animals use. Those genes were passed down from a common ancestor that lived 420 million years ago, long before the first vertebrates ever crawled from sea to shore.
According to the story, when the researchers removed the FoxP1 gene (short for Forkhead Box P1) from the skates, they couldn't walk.  Further analysis revealed that the same thing happened to mice.  They simply lost the ability to coordinate their legs.  They couldn't walk.  This research suggests that the gene that allows us to do the simple act of walking originated over 400 million years ago.  Neat stuff.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Daniel Everett: Homo erectus Could Speak and Make Boats

Bentley University Global Studies professor Daniel Everett argues that Homo erectus could speak and had the ability to make ocean-going vessels.  The Guardian has the story:
“Oceans were never a barrier to the travels of Erectus. He travelled all over the world, travelled to the island of Flores, across one of the greatest ocean currents in the world,” said Daniel Everett, professor of global studies at Bentley University, and author of How Language Began. “They sailed to the island of Crete and various other islands. It was intentional: they needed craft and they needed to take groups of twenty or so at least to get to those places.”

While Everett is not the first to raise the controversial possibility that
H. erectus might have fashioned some sort of seagoing vessel, he believes that such capabilities mean that H. erectus must also have had another skill: language.

Erectus needed language when they were sailing to the island of Flores. They couldn’t have simply caught a ride on a floating log because then they would have been washed out to sea when they hit the current,” said Everett, presenting his thesis at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin. “They needed to be able to paddle. And if they paddled they needed to be able to say ‘paddle there’ or ‘don’t paddle.’ You need communication with symbols not just grunts.”
It is pretty clear that Homo erectus hunted, at least in some fashion, could control fire and evidence seems to be accumulating that they hafted spears and, at least late in the range, the European variant set up rudimentary complex settlements.

There is, naturally, skepticism that any hominin form prior to Neandertals were sea-going: 
But others say that there is little evidence that H. erectus was a sophisticated seafarer, let alone had a language. “I don’t accept that, for example, [Homo] erectus must have had boats to get to Flores,” said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. “Tsunamis could have moved early humans on rafts of vegetation.”
Before dismissing that idea out of hand, remember that it is the best one going to explain how the New World Monkeys got where they are, since Africa and South America had parted ways some 180 million years prior to their arrival.

I think there is likely not enough evidence to know one way or another if Homo erectus could sail the high seas and had speech, although the only skeletal evidence that we have for that part of the anatomy suggests not. 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A Mistake Rectified

I have been extraordinarily busy the last few weeks and had hoped to post about this at the time.  Ken Ham was invited to speak at the University of Central Oklahoma.  I have no sympathy for anything that Ken Ham either writes or speaks but what happened next was appalling.  After the invitation, pressure was put on the UCO student association by LBGT groups to disinvite him.  LGBT people make up (charitably) 5% of any given population.  Nonetheless, the UCO group in charge, in what is coming to be the typical, spineless response, rolled over and acceded to their demands.  According to school officials this was done independently of campus administration:
“The university may advise, but does not direct, the activities of [University of Central Oklahoma Student Association],” Johnson wrote. “In fact, in the spirit of the UCO policy on freedom of expression, the university President, Provost and the Vice President of Student Affairs supported and did not deny the proposal to bring Mr. Ham to campus to encourage conversation and debate of diverse perspectives. This was prior to UCOSA’s cancellation of the invitation to Mr. Ham.”
More information came out by way of student association president, Stockton Duvall:
He also said he had been bullied by “a very vocal group on campus that has little tolerance for opposing viewpoints.” Duvall did not specifically cite LGBT activists in his memo.
But according to emails obtained by Todd Starnes of Fox News, LGBT activists played a role.
“We are currently getting bombarded with complaints from our LGBT community about Ken Ham speaking on our campus,” Duvall wrote in an email to Answers in Genesis.
This ought to be simple. If you don't like what the speaker is saying, don't go.  It has been an interesting study in cultural norms to watch the LGBT community go from asking for tolerance to demanding tolerance to, now, demanding endorsement of their views and behaviors.  As far as they are concerned, it is now no longer okay to have a view that doesn't fit with the gay agenda and people who's views don't align shouldn't be allowed to speak. That the student government association obliged them is disgraceful.

But then this happened:
The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) has decided to re-invite Christian creationist Ken Ham to present his views at the institution, after he was dis-invited last week.

The decision has been celebrated by some on the campus as a step forward for 'free speech', according to KOKO News 5. Ham's perhaps surprising re-invitation stands out in UK and US student culture, where the 'no-platforming' of controversial speakers has become more common.
Kudos to pastor Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church for leading the charge to get Ham re-invited. As much as I don't agree with Ham, I have no patience or sympathy with liberal fascism or bullies.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ted Davis Waxes Theological, Todd Wood Responds

Ted Davis, like the rest of us, is tired of how the origins debate is playing out between mainstream and non-mainstream science.  He has great praise for those that display clear-headed thinking on both sides in the debate such as Michael Ruse and Todd Wood.  He writes:
I also tip my hat to YEC proponents Todd Wood and Paul Nelson. Each was featured in the YEC film, Is Genesis History?, but neither dismisses proponents of EC with the back of his hand. They both have the courage and conviction to seek the truth, even if takes them places where their creationist friends don’t want them to go. For example, on the same day the film was released, Dr. Nelson dissented from how his ideas were presented in the film. Dr. Wood didn’t do that, but he does candidly admit elsewhere that “Evolution is not a theory in crisis,” that “it is not teetering on the verge of collapse,” nor has it “failed as a scientific explanation.” He finds “gobs and gobs” of evidence for evolution,” denies that it is “just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion,” affirms that it “has amazing explanatory power,” and frankly says, “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.”
I am quite sure that this last quote will haunt Todd Wood to the grave because most evolutionary creationists (including myself) keep it in their back pocket. Wood has taken on some heavy hitters who have misused science and has done so in an honest and thoughtful way and he has truly striven to understand biodiversity as it pertains to his way of thinking. Furthermore, unlike many in the young earth creationist camp, his posts are free of invective and insult.  For these things and others, he should be commended.

Davis continues:
There’s always the danger than one can overplay one’s hand, or forget that those who see things differently are also made in the image of God. Sometimes, one’s opponents in a public disagreement really are mean-spirited, arrogant, or intellectually dishonest, tempting one to respond in kind. In such situations, do your best to take the high road. Stick with the facts, spell out why you hold different opinions, and be fair to ideas defended by others, even when you strongly disagree: no one has a monopoly on truth. Intellectual honesty and humility do not imply cowardice or lack of commitment to the Gospel. 
This is something I am often guilty of. I find it all too easy to take a blowtorch to the writings of Answers in Genesis in a nasty way, typically because I am writing in anger.  This often happens when I discover a post or article in which it is clear that the person writing the article has little knowledge of the subject about which they write and their tone is insulting or condescending.  It is all too easy to open up both barrels. He finishes with an admonition to avoid indoctrination:
Individual Christians have every right to think for themselves, without being browbeaten into submission by fear, accused of holding dangerous views simply for favoring a different interpretation of Genesis, or publicly shamed as intellectual cowards for accepting consensus science.
There is a great danger in taking the attitude that if two people have a disagreement about something, that one of them is not in the spirit. This behavior results in arrogance, haughtiness, broken relationships and lots of finger-pointing. We are all guilty of sin, especially the sin of self-righteousness.

Todd Wood responds by adding another way that he would like to see the debate change: less of “diagnosing the enemy”: 
There's two big problems I see with Diagnosing the Enemy. First of all, it's just a profoundly arrogant thing to do. How can anyone seriously think that reading a Facebook comment or blog article would actually reveal all the intricacies and complexities of human thought? Some days, I can barely put two words together, and you think that's going to actually reveal the inner workings of my mind and years of study and research and prayer and thought?

Also arrogant is the ulterior motive of Diagnosing the Enemy: I have the cure. Because, let's face it, diagnosing a problem isn't really the point, right? The point is: if only my enemy would watch my video or read my book or do what I tell them, then everything would be fine. Because not only can I diagnose your problem by engaging in a superficial reading of superficial comments, I'm the guy who's gonna cure you! When you think about it like that, it's obviously and embarrassingly silly, but it still doesn't stop us from reading certain triggers and sticking people in that pigeonhole.

Which brings me to the second big problem: It's dehumanizing. Instead of complex people with complex thoughts and attitudes and personalities, we reduce our enemies to one simplistic issue. There aren't just ideas out there that float around having battles by themselves. Ideas are held by real people with real personalities, and histories, and values, and fears. And all of that immensely complicated personality gets entangled with the way we think about the world and our faith. When disagreements pop up, though, these people for whom Christ died suddenly become defined by one perceived "defect."
I am of two minds about this response. It is certainly correct that people are complex and that a single blog post or Bookface post does not remotely capture their complexity.  As noted above, it is all too easy to fire off a response to a post that you know has gotten some basic information wrong.

The problem is that when an entire body of work of an organization continually misrepresents science and the authors of that body of work show absolutely no interest in correcting this misinformation, a response is necessary. When an entire body of work is continually scientifically inaccurate, it begins to inform about the people who are producing it.  In short, at least on one level, it makes it possible to “diagnose the enemy.”

 If you read all of the posts on my blog or my writings on BioLogos, you would get a pretty good idea of what I think about science and theology. It might even be possible to “diagnose” me a bit. To be sure, you would not have insight into what I think about abortion, gun control or how good a father I am to my children, but it would be pretty clear that I am a card-carrying evolutionary creationist.

Davis's post is a clarion call for both sides to take the high road.  That is often hard to do when you are being called “evil, stupid evolutionists” and you know that what they have written is just plain false.
Wood remarks that it is disheartening to see BioLogos identified as the “middle ground.” If we are not the middle ground, what are we? We are people who are firmly convinced in the salvation of Jesus Christ and the integrity and primacy of God's word to us.  We are also people who want to understand the universe that God has created, but to do so in an honest, forthright, and scientifically sound way.

Evolutionary creationists are dismissed by atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris for believing in fairy tales and being scientifically compromised by their faith.  This is a false charge.  We operate within the scientific framework with the understanding that everything around us is God's handiwork.  We are dismissed by many young earth creationists as being “compromisers” and not taking the bible seriously.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the things that seems to drive this invective is that atheists are convinced the Bible is false and that we are idiots for believing in it.  Young earth creationists are convinced that their understanding of scripture is absolutely correct, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It is easy enough to understand where the atheists are coming from, since they see nothing beyond the observable universe.   It is the YEC perspective that I find perplexing. It leads to people like Wood, himself, saying about evolutionary creationists that they “ought to know better,” even though, by his own admission, there is a massive amount of evidence for evolution.  Ken Ham takes it a bit further by questioning whether we are, in fact, Christians at all, and that if we pass on the EC perspective to our children, we are endangering their salvation.

Is it possible that Wood and his fellow YEC supporters are correct in their scriptural assessment?  It absolutely is.  Is it possible that we have evolution wrong?  Is it possible that the earth was created six thousand years ago?  Again, it absolutely is.  But the weight of evidence currently doesn't support those positions.  In fact, there is little to no empirical support for them.  Many good, devoted Christians are out there are wrestling with these facts.  To be told that they “ought to know better” than to accept them or that they aren't Christians if they do is insulting.  Further, as noted above, it betrays a troubling aspect of this perspective: the idea that our understanding of scripture is unbiblical. 

Secondary to this is that, in all of the young earth creationist literature that I have read, there is a remarkable lack of self-examination when it comes to scriptural interpretation.  To those who support the young earth model: we might be wrong about our interpretation of scripture, but you might be, also.  For the origins debate to change, there must be an acceptance of this on both sides of the aisle.  Only then will progress be made and name-calling cease.  

Friday, February 02, 2018

Jesuit Review: Creationism Isn't About Science, it’s about theology (and it’s really bad theology).

Eric Sundrup has an editorial in the Jesuit Review about what is wrong with young earth creationism.  He has some very good observations: He begins:
The Creation Museum is a $27 million example of how Christians can lose their way fighting the culture wars. After spending time there this Christmas, I left convinced that as wrong as the museum’s science is, the most frightening driver of its “logic” is an impoverished theology, which is coupled with a desire to win moral arguments. This toxic combination propels devout people into strange and unnecessary battles with modern science.
This is a point that I and many different researchers have made over the years: young earth creationism misses the broader picture. It reduces the majesty, glory and awe of the Bible and the message that God is telling us in favor of a flat, sterile, superficial understanding of the passages in Genesis. He continues:
Mr. Ham’s motivations for founding the museum and its parent organization clearly grew out of the culture wars. Answers in Genesis argues for the inerrancy of the Bible and specifically for a literal interpretation of Genesis because they think this provides them a strong footing in public discussions. And that, I think, is exactly how this group of Christians got lost. They are trying to win moral and theological debates with what look like scientific arguments.

Strangely, in their attempt to provide definitive empirical answers to moral and theological questions, creationists like Mr. Ham have more in common with some of their most strident scientific opponents than with the broader Christian tradition. They are proponents of the strictest form of biblical inerrancy and literalism. And in this mode they are actually advancing a mirror-image of scientism, in which God’s revelation, both in Scripture and in creation, is meant to convey a list of facts.
I think that this is one of the reasons that young people are leaving the church. Not only do they discover that they have been fed bogus science that doesn't stand up to even the barest scrutiny, when they have issues that require them to reach deeply into their faith, there is nothing there, just cold, impersonal facts. 

Mr. Sundrup's analysis is also not so unlike Joel Edmund Anderson's, in that, in his book The Heresy of Ham, Anderson notes that by focusing on science (or their understanding of science, anyway), Ham and other young earth creationists have, like their atheist counterparts, held up science as the ultimate arbiter of faith.  Modern science HAS to conform to the biblical passages.  If it does not, we are all lost.  This is nonsense for one simple reason: if biblical scripture in Genesis conforms to our understanding of 21st century science, then they are necessarily out of step with 20th century science, 19th century science, 18th century science and so on.  Since young earth creationist arguments don't change (except to move the goalposts), every new scientific discovery has to be shoehorned, manipulated, mangled and adjusted to fit the prevailing narrative. Scientific integrity be damned.  It never occurs to them that the narrative, itself might be wrong.

Indian Site of Attirampakkam Pushes Middle Palaeolithic of India Back to 385 Kya

Great Googlymoogly!  Fresh on the heels of the discovery of the Misliya site (upcoming BioLogos post) that the Middle Palaeolithic Levallois technology was present in Israel as early as 194 thousand years ago, we now have news from India that places the emergence of the same technology as early as 385 thousand years ago.  From Malcolm Ritter at the site PhysOrg:
Homo sapiens arose in Africa at least 300,000 years ago and left to colonize the globe. Scientists think there were several dispersals from Africa, not all equally successful. Last week's report of a human jaw showed some members of our species had reached Israel by 177,000 to 194,000 years ago.

Now comes a discovery in India of stone tools, showing a style that has been associated elsewhere with our species. They were fashioned from 385,000 years ago to 172,000 years ago, showing evidence of continuity and development over that time. That starting point is a lot earlier than scientists generally think Homo sapiens left Africa.
This tool style has also been attributed to Neanderthals and possibly other species. So it's impossible to say whether the tools were made by Homo sapiens or some evolutionary cousin, say researchers who reported the finding Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Nowhere is there any indication that modern humans are associated with the tools at Attirampakkam (ATM). In fact, there are no hominin remains whatsoever at ATM. The Indian subcontinent has always had a paucity of human remains, the most notable of which is the Narmada Homo erectus cranium.  In Europe, the Levallois technology, which also shows up at ATM, is almost exclusively associated with Neandertals and in the Levant, at the Skhul, Qafzeh, Tabun and Amud sites in the Mt. Carmel region, it is used by both Neandertals and early moderns. Consequently, while someone was using early Middle Palaeolithic tools at ATM, we don't know who.

What is incredibly striking about the ATM site is that, from 385 ky down to 172 ky, there is continuous technological evolution, beginning with what the describers call the “terminal Acheulean,” through a punch flake industry with points, to knives.  Another point made by the authors is that this Middle Palaeolithic industry appears and flourishes during a time where other sites in India are still using Acheulean technology.  This suggests “that spatial variability among Palaeolithic cultural sequences is larger than previously thought.”  From the Nature article1:
The behavioural transformations that mark the advent of the Indian Middle Palaeolithic at ATM are summarized by the following diagnostic features: the obsolescence of Acheulian large-flake reduction sequences, with a directional shift towards smaller tool components; the adoption and continuance of Levallois recurrent and preferential strategies; a gradual intensification of blade reduction; and an increased use of finer grained quartzite during phase II than during A gradual discontinuation of biface use—which becomes definite at ATM after approximately 172 ± 41 ka—has been reported at other Middle Palaeolithic and Middle Stone Age sites worldwide (see Supplementary Information and references therein).
This is an astounding find for so many reasons. It establishes the appearance of the Levallois technology, one we know originated in Africa, outside Africa over 150 thousand years earlier than we thought. This is a technology that was considered to have originated some 400 thousand years ago. We may now have to revise this date further into the past.

It shows a clear progression of human cultural evolution, from the late Acheulean hand axes, through Middle Palaeolithic Levallois technology to a more blade-oriented technology.  Sadly, it appears as though the site began to fall into disuse and the sequence stops cold around 74 kya.  This is not surprising since it coincides with the Toba supervolcano eruption in Indonesia.  Nonetheless, as the authors point out, it suggests multiple migrations out of Africa of first archaic Homo sapiens, then modern Homo sapiens, such as those in Misliya and that these groups interacted with the Archaic hominins they encountered along the way.

1Akhilesh, K., Pappu, S., Rajapara, H. M., Gunnell, Y., Shukla, A. D., & Singhvi, A. K. (2018). Early Middle Palaeolithic culture in India around 385–172 ka reframes Out of Africa models. Nature, 554, 97.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Just When You Had Forgotten About Adnan Oktar...

Adnan Oktar, otherwise known as Harun Yahya is back in the news.  The Hurriyet Daily News recounts the lurid tale:
An Istanbul court has issued a temporary restraining order against controversial TV personality Adnan Oktar and Gülperi Koçak, the mother of two young women, after a father claimed his two daughters were “forced” to be on Oktar’s program.

The Istanbul Anatolian 20th Family Court ruled for Oktar, known abroad as Harun Yahya, and Koçak to stay away from the 19-year-old and 17-year-old women for six months.

The court ruling came after the father, who lives in Austria, had not heard from his two daughters for a long time. The young women were then spotted on Oktar’s show.

Adnan, who has been described as the “most notorious cult leader in Turkey,” credits himself as a creationist and has written numerous books on the subject. On his TV program, he sits around with a group of plastic surgery-enhanced women, who he refers to as his “kittens,” discussing religion and social incidents.
Oktar, if you will remember, was responsible for sending out, unsolicited, copies of his anti-evolution book to hundreds of academic researchers.  I have posted several pieces over the years on this mercurial, flamboyant personality, including several interviews.  His books are, of course, worthless and, according to one source, often plagiarized.  Still, it is is amusing to see this larger-than-life figure at work. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Meanwhile, Over in Scotland...

Scotland seems to be having its own experiences with young earth creationism.  From Paul Hutcheon of the Sunday Herald:
A MEDICAL doctor described as one of Europe’s most active creationists has been reappointed to sit on the education committee of South Lanarkshire council.

Dr Nagy Iskander, who has claimed that a key tenet of evolution is “really illogical”, will be allowed to vote at meetings even though he is unelected.

Gordon MacRae, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland, said: “Parents will be disturbed that unelected and unaccountable religious representatives from fringe groups continue to take decisions on their children's education.”

Local authorities are legally required to appoint three members, representing churches, to their education committees. In practice, the three individuals have equal standing to councillors but they are not accountable to voters.

A bid by Green MSP John Finnie to scrap the system in the last parliamentary term fizzled out and unelected religious figures maintain their privileged role.
This is what happens when you elect people to an education committee who have no background or interest in science.  In order to be on the education committee, new nominees should have to pass a basic test in science.  It is pretty clear from reading the rest of the article that Mr. Iskander has absolutely no idea what evolution is.  That doesn't seem to stop him (or anyone else for that matter) from having strong opinions on it. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Meanwhile, Over in India...

There has been swift reaction to the statement of India's Union human resource development minister Satyapal Singh’s remarks that evolution is not a scientific theory and should not be taught in India's schools.  He also wrote that the theory of evolution had been disproved over thirty years ago and that we did not evolve from monkeys.  The Wire staff writes:
Singh had made his claims when he was at the All India Vaidik Sammelan, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, on January 20. Shortly after, Ram Madhav, the national secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, issued a tweet in support of Singh and drawing his followers’ attention to a campaign organised by supporters of the idea of ‘intelligent design’ to cast doubt on the popular theory bearing Darwin’s name.
Reaction was swift. Scientists produced and circulated the following (in part):
We, the Scientists, science communicators and scientifically oriented members of public, are deeply pained by your claim. It is factually incorrect to state that the evolutionary principle has been rejected by the scientific community. On the contrary, every new discovery adds support to Darwin’s insights. One should also note that it is no longer merely a mechanism for organic evolution, but several other evolutionary phenomena in nature. Statements such as ‘humans did / did not evolve from monkeys’ is an overly simplistic and misleading representation of evolution. There is plentiful and undeniable scientific evidence to the fact that humans and the other great apes and monkeys had a common ancestor.

You have also supposedly claimed that Vedas contain answers to all questions. Such an exaggerated claim cannot be substantiated with the evidence available and is an insult to the genuine research work on history of Indian scientific traditions. Vedic traditions through the Mimamsa discipline teach us ways of analysing Vedas through rationality and logical reasoning. Your claims are at odds with the very traditions you claim to uphold.

When a minister working for Human Resource Development in the country makes such claims, it harms the scientific community’s efforts to propagate scientific thoughts and rationality through critical education and modern scientific research. It also diminishes the image of the country at the global level and reduces faith of the international historical research community in the genuine research by the Indian researchers.

Therefore, we urge you to retract the reported speech at the All India [Vaidik] Sammelan with immediate effect and issue a clarification about the Ministry’s policy towards teaching the theory of evolution.
Singh stated that no Veddic writer has ever seen an ape turn into a man, therefore evolution did not happen. The sheer ignorance of the evolutionary process in this statement is so overwhelming that it is difficult to know how to correct it.That is is religiously-based is not a surprise. 

Aside: I have often thought to issue a challenge to young earth creationists of all stripes.  The challenge is this: find me a person who is firmly convinced that evolutionary theory is wrong and that the earth was created six thousand years ago...but who is a confirmed atheist.  This would be someone who is convinced of these ideas, based on what they see as the scientific evidence for them, AND that there is absolutely no God.  Every argument that I have ever seen promoting a young earth and no evolution has been religiously-based, whether it be Christian, Islamic, Veddic or other less well-known groups. 

Go on.  I dare ya..  If this person can be found,  I will contribute $25 to Answers in Genesis. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"They Are Digging in the Wrong Place"

Bodie Hodge has a post on the AiG website that is nothing short of astounding.  AiG is, once again, moving the goalposts.  And who is Bodie Hodge?  He is, according to the site: "A speaker, writer, and researcher for Answers in Genesis, Bodie Hodge has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale."  Hodge writes:
Each year there are many headlines, books, technical articles, and videos about another supposed missing link—a supposed link between a land mammal and whale, a dinosaur and bird, an ape and human, and so forth. Usually, these are quite easy to refute by anatomical features.

For example, alleged missing links turn out to be anything but—for example, either ape, human, or a fake (e.g., Piltdown man) or dinosaur, bird, or a fake (e.g., Archaeoraptor).

Nevertheless, these alleged missing links rarely make creationists cringe. I think it frustrates some of the evolutionists because they think they have found some sort of knock-out evidence that they interpret as support for evolution. But creationists rarely bat an eye.

Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret as to why creationists rarely take notice of these alleged missing links. It is because the evolutionists are digging in the wrong place—just like the bad guys in Indiana Jones. When you don’t have the correct information, you can miss the mark significantly.
So evolutionists are just like "the bad guys" in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Did you catch that?  A casual trip through the fossil record indicates that there are, in fact, many, many transitional forms present.  We now have very detailed sequences from Devonian crossopterygians to early tetrapods, from land mammals to whales, from maniraptoran dinosaurs to birds and, of course, from late Miocene/early Pliocene apes to humans.

But this isn't even the central focus of his post. First, he lists the conventional geological stratigraphy.  He bungles this early on.  He writes: "In a general sense, evolutionists look for alleged dinosaur-to-bird missing links in the Cretaceous and Paleocene (bolded)."  Wrong.  The dinosaur-to-bird sequence dates to the late Jurassic.  Furthermore, the presence of feathers on non-avian dinosaurs suggests that feathers evolved even before the late Jurassic.  By the early Cretaceous, birds were numerous.  The transition had long since ended by the Palaeocene.  Had he done any study of the transition from dinosaurs to birds, he would have known this.

He then writes:
But here is the problem. The rock layers from Cambrian to Miocene—at least mapped in the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4)—were from the Flood.2 Miocene and Eocene rock is intricately part of the makeup of the mountains of Ararat, as is Cretaceous and Triassic (many times inverted, lying above the Miocene and Eocene). Since that time, the upper strata are post-Flood strata—such as Ice Age layers and recent volcanic flows. I understand creationists debate about tertiary sediment (Paleocene through Miocene) and encourage you study this further.
He gives absolutely no justification for this viewpoint. No evidence is presented indicating why pre-Pliocene sediments are flood and Pliocene sediments on up are not.  There is no event to mark this transition, no sedimentary layer that is distinctive.

Nothing. He simply says that it is so, therefore it is. It gets worse:
So when evolutionists say they found a transitional form between an ape and a human in Pliocene rock, creationists hardly flinch. Evolutionists are looking at the rock strata and the age of the earth incorrectly because humans were around long before that rock was ever laid down! Furthermore, humans existed when the Cambrian rock was laid down during the Flood. To go one more step, mankind had dominated the earth for over 1,600 years before the Cambrian rock was laid down!

When someone says that they found a transitional form between a dinosaur and a bird in the Paleocene, again, creationists hardly think twice. Both specimens died the same year in the same Flood and are not related. This is why finding feathers in the rock layers “before the dinosaurs” is not a problem for creationists.4 Nor is it a problem when we find theropod dinosaurs (which supposedly evolved into birds in the evolutionary story) that had eaten birds in lower Cretaceous rock.5

Birds were made on Day Five, which is a day before the dinosaurs; land animals, like dinosaurs, were made on Day Six. Having both buried in Flood sediment isn’t a big deal.
So many questions...

  • If humans were around before the rocks were laid down, how is it that we find no humans at the base of the geological/flood column?  In fact, why aren't human remains found throughout the column, if they predate the Cambrian?
  • How is it that all of the fossil species that are supposed to be in flood deposits are perfectly sorted, even to the point of brachipods being sorted by crinulation number and trilobites being sorted  by number of compound eye segments?  What about the detailed fossil sequences mentioned above? 
  • if humans had ship-building capacity during the time of Noah and existed in towns and settlements, why is there no evidence of this at the bottom of the geological column?
  • If humans did, in fact, predate the Cambrian, why do we find a detailed, clear sequence from prehuman hominoids through human precursors to archaic and them modern humans beginning in the Pliocene?  
  • If the sediments from the Miocene back to the Precambrian reflect flood deposits, why do we find the largest land mammals, dinosaurs three quarters of the way up the column, when they should have sunk to the bottom?  
  • If the sediments from the Miocene back to the Precambrian reflect flood deposits, why do we find features throughout the geological record that could only have happened on the surface, such as rain drops, footprints, hatched dinosaur eggs, cave systems, sand dunes, burned forests, swamps, etc. 
So why aren't any of these things problems for the creationists?
Biblical creationists presuppose the Bible’s truth and subsequently the true history of the earth—including Noah’s Flood. Evolutionists have presuppositions too, albeit, false ones, but presuppositions nonetheless. This is why when evolutionists look at Flood rock they unwittingly believe that the rock was actually laid down slowly and gradually over long ages. I suggest they have been indoctrinated to believe such stories as gradual rock accumulation over millions of years which has never been observed or repeated. Thus, the concept of millions of years is not in the realm of science but interpretation.
The reason that "evolutionists" do this is because every bit of the palaeontological and geological evidence points to a long depositional history with evolutionary diversity.  It is not a matter of indoctrination.  It is a matter of going where the evidence leads.  One might reasonably argue that if you put on young earth creationist blinders, you do not see the vast stretches of time and the changes that the earth has gone through in its long history, but, instead, a flat earth. 

It is common to find nonsense on the AiG site, but this rises to a new level of inanity. This post is terribly written, incorrect, pompous and insulting.  The writer provides no evidence for the position he takes, insults the hard work of scientists who have spent decades piecing together the geological and fossil records, and betrays complete ignorance of basic geology and palaentology.  It is hard to be charitable to Mr. Hodge, who plainly knows nothing of which he writes and, as a result, produces pure drivel.