Tuesday, August 11, 2020

How Old is the Universe?

An astrophysicist at the University of Oregon suggests that the universe might not be 13.8 billion years old but maybe just 12.6—a drop of 8.7%. From the university website:

Dating the Big Bang, which gave birth to the universe, has relied on mathematics and computational modeling, using distance estimates to the oldest stars, the behavior of galaxies and the rate of the universe’s expansion. The idea is to compute how long it would take all objects to travel backward to the beginning. 
A key calculation is the Hubble constant, named after Edwin Hubble, the namesake of the Hubble Space Telescope, who first calculated the universe’s expansion rate in 1929. A more recent technique uses observations of leftover radiation from the Big Bang. It maps echoes in spacetime, known as the cosmic microwave background, and reflects conditions in the early universe as set by the Hubble constant. 
The science for such research, [University of Oregon physicist Jim] Schombert said, is ruled by mathematical patterns expressed in equations that often reach different conclusions. The universe’s age, under the differing scenarios, ranges from 12 billion to 14.5 billion years.

The new calculations use something called the baryonic Tully–Fisher relation (bTFR) rather than the Hubble Constant, which makes use of much more refined infrared measurements. The publication appears in The Astronomical Journal and is pretty dense to the non-astrophysicist.

That didn't stop Ken Ham from weighing in.  In an Answers in Genesis post, he writes: 

So which is it? 13.8 billion years or 12.6 billion years? That’s just a difference of a “mere” 1.2 billion years, after all, but why such conflicting results? Well, it’s because both have the wrong starting point—man’s ideas of naturalism and billions of years.

The correct starting point for our thinking isn’t billions of years. That’s a belief imposed on the observable evidence, such as the cosmic microwave background and light from distant galaxies. Because the models of these researchers have the wrong starting point (i.e., wrong assumptions), they’re drawing wrong interpretations and conclusions from the evidence.

But we can know the age of the earth and universe because Scripture gives us the information we need to determine how old earth and the universe are. Genesis chapter 1 tells us God created everything in six days (Exodus 20:11 reaffirms this), so we know earth and the universe are roughly the same age.

It is quite true that an 8.7% change is sizeable and, subject to further refinements, we will probably be able to narrow down the discrepancy in age. 

Do you know what the astronomers didn't find, though?  They didn't find a universe that is 6,000 years old (a decrease in age of 230,000,000%).   Ken Ham wants us to believe that, because our older estimates were 8.7% off, we have no idea how old the universe actually is.  This is similar to his arguments against radiometric dating, and they are just as faulty.  Even if we did not have the astrophysical estimates, we know, based on geological and radiometric evidence that the earth is vastly older than 6,000 years. 

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Another Mystery Ancestor Joins The Group

Science Daily has a story on genetic work done by researchers at Cornell University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory that suggests that there is, as yet, another unnamed ancestor to the modern human line. They write:

In the new paper, the researchers developed an algorithm for analyzing genomes that can identify segments of DNA that came from other species, even if that gene flow occurred thousands of years ago and came from an unknown source. They used the algorithm to look at genomes from two Neanderthals, a Denisovan and two African humans. The researchers found evidence that 3 percent of the Neanderthal genome came from ancient humans, and estimate that the interbreeding occurred between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago. Furthermore, 1 percent of the Denisovan genome likely came from an unknown and more distant relative, possibly Homo erectus, and about 15% of these "super-archaic" regions may have been passed down to modern humans who are alive today.
The paper is available in PLoS Genetics, which means that it is free to the public.  The above-description makes it sound like bootstrapping on stilts.  Here is a paragraph from the paper, itself, that describes the process:
In this paper, we describe a powerful and highly general new method, called ARGweaver-D, that samples ancestral recombination graphs (ARGs) [18–20] conditional on a generic demographic model, including population divergence times, size changes, and migration events. After introducing ARGweaver-D, we present simulation studies showing it can successfully detect Nea→Hum introgression, even when using a limited number of genomes, and that it also has power for older migration events, including Hum→Nea, Sup→Den, and Sup→Afr events. Finally, we apply this method to modern-day Africans and ancient hominins, and characterize both new and previously reported cases of introgression between humans and archaic hominins.
Okay, it still sounds like bootstrapping on stilts.  I am not sure how you can do a simulation to detect older migration events when that is what you are looking for in the first place.  What exactly is an ancestral recombination graph, you ask?  From a previous paper on this subject:
It is possible to capture these complex relationships using a representation called the ancestral recombination graph (ARG), which provides a complete description of coalescence and recombination events in the history of the sample. However, previous methods for ARG inference have not been adequately fast and accurate for practical use with large-scale genomic sequence data. In this article, we introduce a new algorithm for ARG inference that has vastly improved scaling properties. Our algorithm is implemented in a computer program called ARGweaver, which is fast enough to be applied to sequences megabases in length. With the aid of a large computer cluster, ARGweaver can be used to sample full ARGs for entire mammalian genome sequences.

The best data we have suggests that Neandertals and African archaics split some 600 ky ago when a group of Homo ergaster migrated out of Africa and took up residence in western Europe, leading to branching events that eventually included H. antecessor and the Neandertals.  This is supported by this research, which found about 7% introgression into the Neandertal genome of archaic H. sapiens.  The surprise was that 1% of the Denisovan genome likely came from an, as yet, undiscovered hominin.  

Increasingly, there is evidence that considerable interbreeding occurred throughout the middle to late Pleistocene, continuing through the interbreeding that occurred in China and Europe.  As I wrote about the 105-130 ky old Chinese Xuchang skulls:

These two Chinese skulls stand at the crossroads of these population movements. While showing clear Neandertal characteristics, they also express modern traits, possibly reflecting mixing with the late, modern human arrivals represented by the recent modern human finds at Daoxian. Yet they also express a clear link to ancient East Asian populations. The implications of these skulls are stark: there has been widespread population mixing and regional continuity in Europe and Asia for at least 400 thousand years. Not only did the Neandertals feel enough cultural kinship to mate and have children with these East Asian people, the early modern humans coming out of Africa did, as well. As Chris Davis of China Daily News put it: “One big happy family.”
This likely represents only a small part of the vast scope of population mixing. I will be curious to see where the ARG research leads.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Glenn Morton Has Died

 Glenn Morton, one of the first people to go public with his recantation of young earth creationism has died.  Todd Wood has the news:

I just got word that Glenn Morton passed away on August 5. You can see a brief obituary here. I never met Glenn, but I certainly knew of him. Back in the 1980s, Glenn was an active young-age creationist researcher, looking at questions in by geology. As he continued "digging," he had an increasingly difficult time figuring out how to explain his findings in the context of the Flood geology of the day. So he left, and eventually became a fairly regular critic of young-age creationism.
I remember reading one of Glenn's posts that was cross-linked on the old newsgroup Talk Origins.  The classic post by Morton, which appeared on Old Earth Ministries, detailed his tortuous, painful break from young earth creationism:
In order to get closer to the data and know it better, with the hope of finding a solution, I changed subdivisions of my work in 1980. I left seismic processing and went into seismic interpretation where I would have to deal with more geologic data. My horror at what I was seeing only increased. There was a major problem; the data I was seeing at work, was not agreeing with what I had been taught as a Christian. Doubts about what I was writing and teaching began to grow. Unfortunately, my fellow young earth creationists were not willing to listen to the problems. No one could give me a model which allowed me to unite into one cloth what I believed on Sunday and what I was forced to believe by the data Monday through Friday. I was living the life of a double-minded man--believing two things. By 1986, the growing doubts about the ability of the widely accepted creationist viewpoints to explain the geologic data led to a nearly 10 year withdrawal from publication. My last young-earth paper was entitled Geologic Challenges to a Young-earth, which I presented as the first paper in the First International Conference on Creationism. It was not well received. Young-earth creationists don't like being told they are wrong. The reaction to the pictures, seismic data, the logic disgusted me. They were more interested in what I sounded like than in the data!
I never corresponded with Glenn but now wish I had. He will be missed.