Tuesday, March 17, 2020

BioLogos: Approaching Adam

BioLogos has a post on how to approach the teaching of the historical Adam aimed specifically at parents as they talk to their kids. Christy Hemphill writes:
If your kids are hearing a young earth creationist perspective at church or a Christian school, they may find those ideas very appealing and convincing for a time. Depending on your situation and personality, you may have to be careful not to put your kids in the middle of your own power struggles or debates with other adults in your lives. Kids need space and time to build their worldviews and figure stuff out for themselves. If you consistently model openness to questions and how to seek out reliable information to answer them, that will pay off. But at the end of the day, it will be your honesty and unconditional acceptance that will make you trustworthy to your kids, not the strength of your answers and arguments.

The other issue she discusses is something that rears its ugly head in my household regularly:
Most parents in the American context have to decide how to handle Santa Claus in their family. If you are one of the families that introduces the idea of Santa Claus to your children as make believe from the beginning, you probably still don’t want your kids to make themselves a persona non grata by ensuring every other kid in preschool is clued in. The analogy breaks down, of course, especially if you believe that Adam and Eve are historical figures, but most parents don’t want their kids to alienate others or be ostracized in some way for having different insights into Genesis than their peer group. What do you do when all your kids’ cousins, or friends from Sunday School, or classmates at the homeschool co-op are being taught something very different about Adam and Eve and the origins of humans?
I have been open with my kids about the fact that I am an evolutionary creationist and accept not just an old universe but evolution as it pertains to all life, including humans. We have not had a really good conversation about Adam and Eve because my thoughts are not concrete on this issue. While it is possible they were real people, it is clear from the account in Genesis that the entire episode is stylized, geographically truncated (what was happening on the rest of the planet at that time?) and reads like myth.  John Walton argues that the story is presenting theological truths at the expense of literal facts and that it mirrors other accounts of creation at that time period.

Dennis Venema presents some strong genetic evidence that the human population could never have been below the effective size of 10,000 and was likely much larger.  The other issue is the source for the original Mitochondrial Eve and Male Y chromosome.  As he puts it:
Current estimates place mitochondrial Eve just after the dawn of Homo sapiens as recorded in the fossil record, at about 180 KYA. This places her within our species. Until recently, Y-chromosome Adam was dated later, at about 50 KYA, the time of significant human migration out of Africa. Recently, however, a rare Y-chromosome variant has been found in modern humans that pushes back the last common ancestor of all human Y-chromosome DNA to approximately 210 KYA – which, interestingly enough, is right at the cusp of our own species as recorded in the fossil record. Since our species arose as a continuous population that gradually diverged from other hominins, there is no reason to expect that all of our DNA variation will come back to a common ancestor (or coalesce, to use the technical term) within our species. Indeed, some of our regular chromosomal variation does not coalesce within our species or even as far back as our common ancestral population with chimpanzees.
The problems for the literal Adam begin to mount very quickly and it becomes hard to make sure that you don't kill a child's faith with these nagging bits of evidence.

This is a thorny topic because it cuts to the beginning of the Bible and how we understand the notion of original sin.  As far as the historical Adam and Eve being the first people, the science since is unclear.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Sunday, March 08, 2020

FFRF Lodges Complaint Against New York School Teacher

First, I wish the Freedom From Religion Foundation would go away.  They are poisoning the discourse between religion and society by being militantly atheistic and intolerant.

Having said that, it all began when a parent sent them a letter with this in it:
It said that biology teacher Phil Lucason told students that when they take the Regents Exam, they will have to “play the evolution game, where evolution is the answer to everything.” He explained that none have been “able to find when something becomes something else” and that evolution is contrary to genetics, such as if a dog “underwent several mutations and became a cat.”

Lucason also reportedly told his class that polar bears could mutate among themselves from brown fur to white fur, but that the eye, for example, could never have evolved because of its complexity and the necessity for a series of mutations.

“So, what that means is that you have to play the evolutionary game because the people writing this are married to that idea, despite the new proofs and the science coming out,” he is quoted as saying about the exam.
IF that account is accurate (might be a big “if”) then that science teacher has absolutely no business teaching science, because he has a very poor understanding of it and ZERO understanding of evolutionary theory.  If he is reading the ICR and AiG, then he is not staying current with science.

Teaching creationism straight-up, is unconstitutional, hence the attempts to “teach the controversy,” “explore the strengths and weaknesses” and so on.  This will not end well for the school district and the teacher. 

Saturday, March 07, 2020

David MacMillan Writes OpEd Blasting Creationism, Ken Ham Fires Back

David MacMillan, a former creationist, wrote an opinion/editorial for the Lexington Herald Leader, in which he blasted the Ark Encounter and creationism in general. The posts center around the film “We Believe in Dinosaurs,” an expose of the inner dealings of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter.  About Ken Ham,  he wrote:
“We would be thrilled to see a major economic impact for the town, but…that town’s central business area is on the opposite side of the interstate from the Ark Encounter, half a mile from that interstate, and currently has no major hotels or restaurants.”

In other words, it’s Williamstown’s own fault that they’re not benefiting from the Ark. If they had given Ham land closer to downtown, instead of a whole half-mile away, perhaps things would be better. To hear Ken Ham tell it, they were fools to ever trust him.

Ham’s claim is not only insulting, but disingenuous. Far from actively supporting the community that opened its coffers to his organization, Ham has repeatedly acted to enrich the park at the town’s expense. Although the Ark Encounter is incorporated as a for-profit LLC in order to take advantage of tourism tax incentives, Ham has claimed that the non-profit status of the parent company should excuse them from paying city taxes that support firefighting and other essential services.
This has, evidently, been a sore subject for people and has been chronicled by the Herald-Leader here. MacMillan finishes his piece thus:
As a science advocate, I take strong issue with the nonscience Ken Ham peddles to families and students. His parody of the scientific method does real harm, bleeding inexorably into education and public policy. The whole-hearted embrace of “alternative facts” and the rejection of plain evidence are making our society more and more polarized. Yet Ken Ham’s treatment of Williamstown is a reminder that these sorts of cult-like organizations have impacts that go much farther than the foolish ideas they promote.
Here is how Ham responded:
Much of the film was based on old information; filming started in 2013. Originally, we were told by the producers that they were doing a documentary emphasizing the creative side of making museum exhibits. Despite assurances to the contrary, the producers created a heavily biased, error-filled film designed to sway viewers to a specific conclusion and does not rise to the level of a real documentary. In December 2016, a controversial filmmaker joined the project and helped fund it, taking it into a decidedly mocking direction. Subsequently, we revoked their media access and declined any future interviews.
I have not had a chance to see the film so cannot comment on Ham's accusations here.  Ham remarks in his opinion piece that it made perfect sense to the city to sell the land that the Ark Encounter sits on to Ham and company (Ark Encounter, LLC).  Oddly missing from Ham's piece, however is that the state of Kentucky rescinded $18 million dollars of tax incentives and that, three days later, Ham sold the land back to his non-profit entity, Crosswater Canyon, for $10.  Suspicion was that this sale was to get out of paying $700,000 in taxes.  Peter J. Reilly, of Forbes Magazine, suggested that this was not nearly as nefarious as it sounded, however, but was simply clumsy and unethical.

Expect more fireworks from this.  

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Neandertal/Denisovan Ancestors Interbred With Unknown Hominin

As if the tangle of early archaic Homo sapiens relationships couldn't get any more confusing, evidence has now surfaced that the ancestors of both the Neandertals and Denisovans interbred with a hominin only known from its DNA signature.  From the University of Utah, through Science Daily:
For three years, anthropologist Alan Rogers has attempted to solve an evolutionary puzzle. His research untangles millions of years of human evolution by analyzing DNA strands from ancient human species known as hominins. Like many evolutionary geneticists, Rogers compares hominin genomes looking for genetic patterns such as mutations and shared genes. He develops statistical methods that infer the history of ancient human populations.
According to the article, Rogers performed a study that argued that Neandertals and Denisovans separated earlier than has previously been suggested but that his evidence for this was thin.
The new study has solved that puzzle and in doing so, it has documented the earliest known interbreeding event between ancient human populations -- a group known as the "super-archaics" in Eurasia interbred with a Neanderthal-Denisovan ancestor about 700,000 years ago. The event was between two populations that were more distantly related than any other recorded. The authors also proposed a revised timeline for human migration out of Africa and into Eurasia. The method for analyzing ancient DNA provides a new way to look farther back into the human lineage than ever before.

"We've never known about this episode of interbreeding and we've never been able to estimate the size of the super-archaic population," said Rogers, lead author of the study. "We're just shedding light on an interval on human evolutionary history that was previously completely dark."
According the Rogers, the DNA evidence puts the final nail in the coffin of the complete Out-of-Africa replacement model of modern human origins:
The researchers also proposed there were three waves of human migration into Eurasia. The first was two million years ago when the super-archaics migrated into Eurasia and expanded into a large population. Then 700,000 years ago, Neanderthal-Denisovan ancestors migrated into Eurasia and quickly interbred with the descendants of the super-archaics. Finally, modern humans expanded to Eurasia 50,000 years ago where we know they interbred with other ancient humans, including with the Neanderthals.
This was likely something like Homo antecessor.  As is also true with the Chinese evidence, this evidence suggests that throughout human evolutionary history, there has never/rarely been a time when these groups of archaic and early modern Homo sapiens could not/did not interbreed. As J. Lawrence Angel once said “When two groups of people meet, they may fight, but they will always mate.”

The Science Advances article is open access.