Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Continuing Downward Spiral of Bryan College

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ark Encounter: Profit or Non-Profit?

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Young Earth Creationism: Now Transitional Fossils Are Okay

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Matthew 17:20, updated for realism

Friday, July 07, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Ken Ham Deflects Blame For Poor Attendance of Ark Encounter

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Trouble in Turkey

As Tayyip Erdogan tightens his control over secular Turkey, the most recent casualty is evolutionary science.  The BBC News reports:
On Wednesday, the head of the education ministry's curriculum board Alpaslan Durmuş announced that a section on Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution would be excluded from biology textbooks in the ninth grade (14 and 15 year olds) from next year on.

Students are "too young to understand 'controversial subjects'", he said, adding that the topic will be delayed until undergraduate study.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already approved the proposed changes to the national curriculum, which are expected to be published next week after the Muslim Eid ending the fasting month of Ramadan.

"Turkey will be the second country after Saudi Arabia that excludes theory of evolution from its curriculum," says Feray Aytekin Aydogan, the head of Egitim-Sen - a teachers' union representing over 100,000 members across the country.

"Even in Iran, there are 60 hours of lessons on evolution and 11 hours on Darwin himself," she adds.
This has been brewing for some time in Turkey. Ten years ago, while the creationist movement had Adnan Oktar (nee Harun Yahya), as its voice, there was not unified support within the administration. That has changed.While there is resistance, it is not clear how much of it the new, conservative Islamic government will allow. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Noah and the Dinosaurs

Sorry for the light posting.  I have been trying to beat into shape a BioLogos article on the new human remains from Jebel Irhoud.

Remember the kerfuffle when Ken Ham denied that people rode dinosaurs after Noah's flood and then was confronted with his own book that graphically showed exactly that? Well, AiG is now promoting a three-book series on the life of Noah called  The Remnant Trilogy.  The cover of the second book, Man of Resolve, has an illustration of Noah in a gladiatorial arena (not the first time AiG has ventured into this territory) facing, you guessed it: a dinosaur. Here is the cover:

Here is the description:
As wickedness increases across the land, Noah and his loved ones endure painful consequences of a world bent on evil. King Lamech expands his rule through deception and force, but does his kindness toward Noah hint that things may change?

Noah and Emzara explore their world and their eyes are opened anew to the creative genius of the Most High, yet mankinds's wretchedness threathens to upend their peaceful corner of the world. While tracking down the perpetrator of a malicious crime, they are tested by tragedy and must decide if they will sacrifice everything for truth and justice.

After years of serving God, Noah reaches crisis of faith due to his mounting frustrations with the proliferation of sin and the apparent silence from the Creator. Thrust into a series of perilous situations, Noah's deepest convictions are challenged. His response will direct his course and change the world forever.

More than just a novel, Noah: Man of Resolve features non-fiction sections in the back of the book that provide answers to popular questions about the time in which Noah lived and explain where certain characters and events from the book can be seen at the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky.
Reading this, I am reminded of that ghastly John Voight, Mary Steenburgen series Noah's Ark, by Robert Halmi, Jr., a few decades back. Christian fiction, or fiction based on Christian principles (e.g. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein) can be quite entertaining and provide real-world examination of one's faith and life.  The problem that I have is the last paragraph.  Aside from the shameless plug for AiG, the reader will be presented with half-truths and fiction presented as fact and may not know the difference.   Further, because it is fiction, it will have a wider audience. 

The AiG perspective is that dinosaurs and humans really did coexist, despite absolutely no evidence of this.  David Menton and Ken Ham were to announce that they had proof that humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time but, as nearly as I can tell, no such proof ever materialized. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Slightly Off-Topic: Mike Adams: Inherit the Windfall

Mike Adams has a new column on the continuing travails of Bryan College and its embattled president Stephen Livesay.  Bryan, if you will remember, made the news when twenty percent of its faculty left after being required to sign a statement of faith supporting young earth creationism and a literal Adam and Eve.  More recently, it allied itself with Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, which I am quite sure was, as much as anything, politically motivated.

Now it seems that there have been some financial irregularities to go on top of the religious ones.  Adams writes:
The present crisis dates back to 2009 when one of the founders of the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) was accused of sexual molestation. A proposal was made to sell a property owned by NACA, which is known as the Fort Bluff Camp, for an amount of $2.5 million. This would have covered NACA’s debt at the time, which was $900,000. Thus, it would have left them $1.6 million in the black. This is where Bryan College President Stephen Livesay gets involved. This is also where the gross financial misconduct begins.

Livesay managed to defeat the proposal to sell the land with an alternate proposal to get rid of the then-existing 13-member NACA Board. Livesay proposed a new 15-member NACA Board be put in its place. Elevating audacity to a Zen art form, Livesay suggested the following composition for the new NACA Board: Nine new members from the Bryan College Board and six members from the existing NACA Board. Unbelievably, Livesay proposed that he would be the one to choose all 15 members.
It goes downhill from there.According to Adams and other sources with whom I have spoken personally, the board is now little more than a mouthpiece for Livesay.  The last person who would stand up to him resigned from the board last year, as Adams notes.  From other sources, it became known that, as of a few years ago, Stephen Livesay was paying himself over $300k a year as president.  This after telling Todd Wood and the CORE Institute that the college didn't have the funds to continue supporting the institute.  This is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.  I hope that Bryan survives.  We were down there for a summer institute last summer with my son, Marcus, and it is a very pretty campus and the people there were very friendly.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Ark Encounter Not Helping Local Economy

From Linda Blackford, of the Lexington Herald Leader:
Ark co-founder Mike Zovath said the attraction will attract its 1 millionth visitor by July, but there is no way to independently verify that number. He says all of Answers in Genesis, including the Creation Museum, will employ about 900 people this summer.

Locals do see cars and tour buses full of tourists eager to see the life-size wooden boat, filled with exhibits of young-Earth creationism, an animatronic Noah and friendly dinosaurs. What they don’t see is those tourists crossing over I-75 to drive the mile or two into downtown Williamstown to eat, drink and shop.

Main Street has been in decline since the 1970s, when I-75 replaced KY-25 as a major north-south artery that was filled with cars and people, locals say. The Ark was the first ray of hope the city had seen in years.
This is unfortunate. That was the ONE thing that I hoped that this would do.In fact, I had hoped that people would jettison the Ark Encounter and see northern Kentucky which is at the lower end of the tills from the last glaciation, and is a beautiful area. 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Ken Ham Claims He is Not a White Person

I just love Twitter!!!  Someone can make a perfect ass of themselves in a few seconds in the short space of 140 characters.  Ken Ham sent out a tweet that read thus:

Raw Story picks it up
Ham’s renunciation of his own whiteness was met with instant ridicule by his Twitter followers, who pointed out the hypocrisy of someone who regularly uses religion as a divisive cudgel calling for everyone to overlook racial disparities.

Others, meanwhile, simply used Ham’s post to once again mock him for believing that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark.
This is one reason I don't use Twitter.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Off-Topic Update: Read the Gender Studies Papers That Inspired the ‘Penis Causes Climate Change’ Hoax

The Washington Free Beacon has a story on the background behind the recent gender studies hoax on which I reported here.  Elizabeth Harrington writes:
"We, like many, have been seeing stories and examples of ridiculous papers coming out of the far-left activist wing of academia, fields like gender studies, women's studies, and so on, based upon what's sometimes called ‘critical race and gender theory' or ‘radical constructivism,'" Lindsay said.

He first pointed to an infamous taxpayer-funded paper published last year that studied the "relationship between gender and glaciers." One goal of the study was to "improve human-ice relations."

"As many did, we strongly suspected the feminist glacier study was a hoax," Lindsay said. "But the journal and author stood by it."

Lindsay said he and Boghossian decided after the feminist glacier study that it was plausible to hoax the gender studies field, as Alan Sokal did in the 1990s. Sokal successfully submitted a paper that claimed gravity is a social construct.

Lindsay, a scholar and author, also said they witnessed many examples of gender studies proponents bullying other academics skeptical of their work, mostly by accusing their critics of racism and sexism.
Like them, I also thought the glacier paper was a hoax. The principle issue is that these people have become so theoretical that they cannot even make contact with the real world, so things that are objectively obvious to the vast majority of people escape them. Among the examples that are listed:
Donna M. Hughes wrote about a need for a "feminist critique of the scientific method," because science is "sexist, racist, heterosexist, and classist."

"Biological determinism has long been shown to be sexism, racism, and heterosexism at work under the guise of science," she wrote. "The objectivity of science has long been suspect or rejected."

Betsie Garner and David Grazian borrowed from West and Zimmerman for a paper published in 2016 that claims zoos are sexist.

An alligator's sharp teeth reinforces "hegemonic norms of masculinity" to boys, according to Garner and Grazian, who scold parents for engaging in dangerous stereotypes in conversations with their children at the zoo.
To your average, clear-thinking person, an alligator is an alligator. You know, order Crocodilia, family Alligatoridae, Sub-family Alligatorinae, genus Alligator. Not to these people. For them, everything is subtext.  Everything is grievance- or victim-related and nothing is objective.  They have to argue that the scientific method is sexist, because they cannot possibly use it in the service of their intellectually-bankrupt ideas. 

New BioLogos Post: What Homo Naledi Means for the Study of Human Evolution

I have a new post up on the significance of the Homo naledi dates and how they affect the study of human evolution.  Comments welcome there and here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New Post by Dennis Venema on Biological Information

Dennis Venema has a new post on the testing of an hypothesis by supporters of ID:
In previous posts in this series, we’ve explored the claim made by the Intelligent Design (ID) movement that evolutionary mechanisms are not capable of generating the information-rich sequences in genes. One example that we have explored is nylonase – an enzyme that allows the bacteria that have it to digest the human-made chemical nylon, and use it as a food source. As we have seen, nylonase is a good example of a de novo gene – a gene that arose suddenly and came under natural selection because of its new and advantageous function. Since nylonase is a folded protein with a demonstrable function, it should be beyond the ability of evolution to produce, according to ID.
It goes downhill from there for ID.Experiments routinely show that new proteins that appear can, very often, have functions and be incorporated into the genome. Further, this, apparently, happens at all stages of gene replication, transcription and translation.  As Venema notes at the end:
The importance of these results for ID arguments is clear. By direct experimental test, new biological functions have been shown to be common, not rare, within random sequences - and that these functions may be found in either RNA transcripts or de novo protein products. By Gauger’s own measure, ID advocates have been shown to be wrong. Since this particular ID claim undergirds a large proportion of the ID argument that biological information cannot have arisen through evolution, the consequences for ID are significant.
Stephen Meyer and Douglas Axe have, in the words of the Discovery Institute: “made this strong claim:”
[T]he neo-Darwinian mechanism — with its reliance on a random mutational search to generate novel gene sequences — is not an adequate mechanism to produce the information necessary for even a single new protein fold, let alone a novel animal form, in available evolutionary deep time.
From these experiments, we now know this to be completely wrong.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

3.3 Million Year Old Vertebral Column Confirms Human Pattern of Au. afarensis

The science site PhysOrg has posted a story on a study of the 3.3 million year old fossil from the site of Dikika, in the Afar Triangle.  The fossil, known as Selam, is an almost complete skeleton of a 2 ½ year-old child. From the story:
Many features of the human spinal column and rib cage are shared among primates. But the human spine also reflects our distinctive mode of walking upright on two feet. For instance, humans have fewer rib-bearing vertebrae - bones of the back - than those of our closest primate relatives. Humans also have more vertebrae in the lower back, which allows us to walk effectively. When and how this pattern evolved has been unknown until now because complete sets of vertebrae are rarely preserved in the fossil record.

"For many years we have known of fragmentary remains of early fossil species that suggest that the shift from rib-bearing, or thoracic, vertebrae to lumbar, or lower back, vertebrae was positioned higher in the spinal column than in living humans. But we have not been able to determine how many vertebrae our early ancestors had," said Carol Ward, a Curator's Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and lead author on the study. "Selam has provided us the first glimpse into how our early ancestors' spines were organized."
This gives us much better evidence of how bipedality was practiced in some of the earliest hominins. We know, from the footprints at Laetoli and the hip remains of Lucy, that Au. afarensis was bipedal but now we know that the rib structure had evolved into a more human pattern. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ken Ham Needs to Stay Away From Twitter

Like Donald Trump, Ken Ham sometimes shoots off at the mouth on his Twitter feed.  Hermant Mehta, of Patheos records his latest post:

As with most of the things that Ken Ham says about evolution, it reflects absolutely no knowledge of the subject and includes invective and nonsense.  As Mehta points out:
The entire point of science is to take what we know, try something new, find out new information, and expand our base of knowledge. The evidence for evolution springs from that process. You don’t need to regurgitate it. You don’t need to point to a science textbook. You can test it for yourself.
This is something Ken Ham will never understand.

P.S. This is one of the reasons I don't use Twitter.


Was the LCA in Europe????

Was the last common ancestor of apes and humans in Europe?  That seems to be the gist of a study published in the PLoS One.  Nicole Mortillaro, of CBC News reports:
A jawbone discovered by German troops in Athens during the Second World War could be evidence that apes and humans diverged 200,000 years earlier than the current theory says.

Chimpanzees and bonobos are the nearest known relatives to humans, sharing 99 per cent of our DNA. It's believed that we split between five and seven million years ago.

However, researchers analyzing two fossils — a jawbone from a German museum and an upper premolar from a collection in Bulgaria — concluded their ages to be roughly 7.2 million years, and belonging to a pre-human.
From the paper in PLoS:
The split of our own clade from the Panini is undocumented in the fossil record. To fill this gap we investigated the dentognathic morphology of Graecopithecus freybergi from Pyrgos Vassilissis (Greece) and cf. Graecopithecus sp. from Azmaka (Bulgaria), using new μCT and 3D reconstructions of the two known specimens. Pyrgos Vassilissis and Azmaka are currently dated to the early Messinian at 7.175 Ma and 7.24 Ma. Mainly based on its external preservation and the previously vague dating, Graecopithecus is often referred to as nomen dubium. The examination of its previously unknown dental root and pulp canal morphology confirms the taxonomic distinction from the significantly older northern Greek hominine Ouranopithecus. Furthermore, it shows features that point to a possible phylogenetic affinity with hominins. G. freybergi uniquely shares p4 partial root fusion and a possible canine root reduction with this tribe and therefore, provides intriguing evidence of what could be the oldest known hominin.
Hominin, in this case, means humans and their premodern forms.  I think it is more than somewhat suspect to base a far-reaching hypothesis on one trait, even if it is the p4 root. It is commonly held that the last common ancestor of apes and humans was in Africa, sometime around 7.5 to 8 million years ago, but we have no fossil evidence to support that position.  While it is certainly true that the further back in time you go, the more ape-like our ancestors get, there is simply no smoking gun.

The world will not end if the LCA is, in fact, in southern Europe, but if it is, then it raises some interesting questions.  For one, if the LCA is in Europe, why are all of its hominin descendants in Africa?  So far, even discounting Sahelanthropus, which is a surface find and was crushed, all of the late Miocene and early Pliocene hominin remains are found in either the Afar triangle (Ardipithecus) or the Tugen Hills, in Kenya (Orrorin tugenensis).  If you add Sahelanthropus, then Chad comes into the picture. Additionally, why have we found no post-split hominids in southern Europe?  So far, all that has come out of the ground in this region is middle to late Miocene apes.

Other hurdles exist to acceptance of this idea.  For one, it is pretty clear that our closest living relatives, genetically, are the chimpanzees, who reside in the tropics of central Africa.   Next on the list is the gorilla, also found in the tropics of Africa.  Why have we found no precursors to these hominoids in southern Europe? 

On the other hand, the fossil find has been securely dated to the Messinian Event, in which the Mediterranean Sea effectively dried up, suggesting the possibility that the ancestors of the Pliocene hominins from North Africa migrated from southern Greece.  If this is so, then it raises the dark and ominous thought that much of the information regarding the LCA lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. That is terrible to contemplate.  This would also mean that Chimpanzees and Gorillas are the survivors of a group of Miocene apes that ranged from southern Europe to central Africa.  We know that the ancestors of chimpanzees once upon a time occupied the East African Rift Valley, but are now restricted to central and west Africa.   If their original range extended up into Egypt and beyond, then perhaps we are looking at a similar situation for their ancestors, as well.  

A whole lot more investigation needs to be done and more fossil remains need to be found to shore up the European LCA hypothesis.  Given that this new information does not come from newly discovered fossils does not raise my hopes. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gallup: Belief in Creationism At All-Time Low

Color me skeptical, but the Gallup organization has released its latest poll on the acceptance of creationism and the numbers are down.  Art Swift writes:
The percentage of U.S. adults who believe that God created humans in their present form at some time within the last 10,000 years or so -- the strict creationist view -- has reached a new low. Thirty-eight percent of U.S. adults now accept creationism, while 57% believe in some form of evolution -- either God-guided or not -- saying man developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life.

This is the first time since 1982 -- when Gallup began asking this question using this wording -- that belief in God's direct creation of man has not been the outright most-common response. Overall, roughly three-quarters of Americans believe God was involved in man's creation -- whether that be the creationist view based on the Bible or the view that God guided the evolutionary process, outlined by scientist Charles Darwin and others. Since 1982, agreement with the "secular" viewpoint, meaning humans evolved from lower life forms without any divine intervention, has doubled.
As the pollsters suggest, this may reflect a growing secularization in American society and not necessarily a change in the way that people understand evolution.  As with most of these polls, however, education plays a role:
Higher education levels are associated with less support for creationism and higher levels of belief in the evolutionary explanation for human origins. Belief in creationism is 21% among those with postgraduate education versus 48% of those with no more than a high school diploma. Agreement with evolution without God's involvement is 31% among postgrads versus 12% among Americans with a high school education or less.

However, even among adults with a college degree or postgraduate education, more believe God had a role in evolution than say evolution occurred without God.
This is not surprising considering that most left-leaning colleges and universities do their level best to beat belief in God out of the students.I came along at a time before the advent of oppressive political correctness and identity politics, so it was okay to believe in God and still be educated. 

What is always interesting to me is the “religious preference” part of the chart. Catholics consistently accept God-driven evolution at a higher percentage than protestants. As with previous polls, at least 50% of protestants believe the young earth creation position, although that number appears to be dropping just a bit.  It is encouraging that 45% of those with post-graduate degrees think that evolution occurred but that it was a God-directed process.  Here's to hoping that number increases.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Bryan College Gives Ken Ham Honorary Doctorate in Science

In what one of my friends calls “perhaps the most perfectly ironic thing to have ever happened,” Bryan College has bestowed upon Ken Ham an honorary doctorate in science for its graduate exercise on May 8. Aside from the fact that Ham has very little background in hard science, this is clearly a move by the president and board of directors to align the college with the hard-line young earth position that Ham espouses and is a slap in the face to those who have struggled to create an open atmosphere of learning at the college.

Joel Edmund Anderson, author of The Heresy of Ham, is not amused:
I’m sure Ken Ham views this as a minor victory in his battle against secular humanism, for just the day before, on May 7, 2017, he wrote a short blog post that discussed how the Department of Defense has just recently added “humanism” on its list of religions. The entire article can be summed up in this short paragraph:

“Humanists are very inconsistent when it comes to their religious designation. They want the privileges that come with a religious designation (such as chaplains), but they don’t want the public perceiving them as religious because many humanist groups spend millions of dollars suing public school districts or counties to get rid of religion (mostly just Christianity). And what do they want taught in place of Christianity or a Christian worldview? Humanism! They are aggressively pushing to have their secular humanist religion imposed on generations of children —and they are using our taxpayer dollars to do this.”

Yes, secular humanism is a religion, and our children are being indoctrinated into the secular humanist religion in our schools. As Ham concludes his article by quoting Ephesians 6:12-13 and stating: “This struggle over worldviews just shows that we are engaged in a spiritual battle.”

This is the kind of work that gets Ham an honorary doctorate…in science…from Bryan College.
If you have a very limited understanding of science in the first place, then, yes, this would be acceptable. As Anderson points out, Ham's position betrays a complete inability to differentiate between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism (that is not the only problem Ham has with science, but it is a big one).  He quotes the late evolutionary biologist William Provine, famous for his treatise that there is no God, no moral absolutes and no afterlife and, further, that evolutionary theory supports this.  To this, he points out:
This is the fundamental, contradictory problem with philosophical naturalism: it’s claim that the natural world is all that exists is not a scientific claim. So, when Provine and Dawkins claim that evolution teaches us that there is no God, and that there is no purpose or meaning in life, they are wrong, and they are playing a philosophical trick on you. Evolution describes natural processes; evolution does not state nature is all that exists. Science and evolution do not support that philosophical claim, period.
Unfortunately, Ken Ham, and, increasingly, other young earth creationists are taking this position, ironically, in support of atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Make no mistake, it is a philosophical position.  One of the things I am quite clear about with my children when they ask me about evolutionary theory is that it is not capable of testing hypotheses involving the origin of life.  It needs life to work.

One of the drawbacks of using the Classical Conversations curriculum is their reliance on a truly terrible book called It Couldn't Just Happen. The author, Lawrence Richards, has adopted this misunderstanding between philosophical and methdological naturalism.  Consequently, all of his excursions into evolutionary theory are predisposed against it, because it is, by definition, atheistic.  This is unfortunate. 

I do not believe that Bryan College will prosper as a result of this move.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Off-Topic: The Troubling State of Social Science

Skeptic Magazine is reporting on a hilarious (in some ways) hoax that was perpetrated on the world of gender studies.  Two authors, Peter Boghossian, a professor of philosophy and James A. Lindsay, a Ph.D. in math and physics,  submitted a paper that, by their own admission, made absolutely no sense but appealed to far-left, liberal socio-political perspectives.  They write:
Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.
In other words, as long as it bashed men, it was okay, even if the premise of the paper was completely unsupportable. As the authors note, it gets worse:
Not only is the text ridiculous, so are the references. Most of our references are quotations from papers and figures in the field that barely make sense in the context of the text. Others were obtained by searching keywords and grabbing papers that sounded plausibly connected to words we cited. We read exactly zero of the sources we cited, by intention, as part of the hoax. And it gets still worse…

Some references cite the Postmodern Generator, a website coded in the 1990s by Andrew Bulhak featuring an algorithm, based on NYU physicist Alan Sokal’s method of hoaxing a cultural studies journal called Social Text, that returns a different fake postmodern “paper” every time the page is reloaded. We cited and quoted from the Postmodern Generator liberally; this includes nonsense quotations incorporated in the body of the paper and citing five different “papers” generated in the course of a few minutes.
On one level, this is hilarious.  It was difficult to get through either the paper, itself, or the authors' report of the hoax.  At one point, I was laughing so hard, tears were coming out of my eyes.  On another, it is deeply concerning.  The editors of this journal should resign in disgrace.

The social sciences have always had a somewhat checkered reputation in the general world of science, and examples like this simply reinforce this perspective. Once upon a time, I had an opportunity to read a social sciences dissertation written by someone that I knew at the University of Tennessee.  He made it clear that the dissertation had already been accepted by the graduate school.  It was terrible, full of spelling, grammatical and logical errors.  I marveled that, had I turned in the same kind of work to my advisor, he would have thrown it back in my face.

It is clear that, long ago, the social sciences burned objective scientific principles at the altar of progressive, ideologically hidebound politics.  This was exposed by the original hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, in 1996, in the journal Social Text.

What has just transpired in the journal Cogent Social Sciences, is unacceptable and all of those involved should hang their heads in shame.  Unfortunately, as the authors point out:
As a matter of deeper concern, there is unfortunately some reason to believe that our hoax will not break the relevant spell. First, Alan Sokal’s hoax, now more than 20 years old, did not prevent the continuation of bizarre postmodernist “scholarship.” In particular, it did not lead to a general tightening of standards that would have blocked our own hoax. Second, people rarely give up on their moral attachments and ideological commitments just because they’re shown to be out of alignment with reality.
Most people do not see themselves in the same light that other people do, and the facile nature of the discipline of "gender studies" will likely continue, in spite of this hoax. Nonetheless, these two authors have done an amazingly important service in exposing the shoddy nature of the academic standards of it.
P.S. for those of you in need of a laugh, here is the Postmodern Generator.  One of the papers it generated was from Barbara Porter, Professor of English at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Matt Young Not Happy With Treatment of Andrew Snelling

Neither am I.  It seems that Andrew Snelling, a young earth creationist, wanted to do a geological study of rocks in the Grand Canyon and so petitioned the National Park Service to remove a few rocks to do this.  After reviewing the proposal that Snelling sent, the Park Service declined.  Citing religious descrimination, Snelling is suing the Park Service.  Here is an excerpt from the story in the Phoenix New Times:
In the federal complaint filed on Tuesday, ADF uses several key e-mails by scientists who put their feelings in writing to demonstrate the bias Snelling says he encountered.

"It is difficult to review such an outlandish proposal," Ron Blakely of Northern Arizona University told NPS officials in 2014, when he was asked for his opinion about Snelling's proposal.

Gary McCaleb, ADF senior counsel, told Phoenix New Times that Snelling "has been stonewalled for three years. Something's fundamentally wrong when a government stops a good scientist from doing good research."

Whether it's actually "good" research is debatable, of course. But it's unclear why government officials care what Snelling concludes about a relatively small collection of Grand Canyon rocks.
Here is Matt Young's take on it, from Panda's Thumb:
I do not know how many people request permission to remove a few rocks from the Grand Canyon. But Dr. Snelling’s proposal was to remove no more than 60, ~0.2 kg samples to use in his research. He did not ask for any funding. There is not the slightest doubt that his research would conclude that the Grand Canyon was something like 6000 years old. That is, he is pursuing, in the jargon of the times, fake research. So what? It would have been better if the National Park had allowed him to have his rocks and go play in his sandbox.

Instead, Dr. Snelling is now being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has just posted an article Grand Canyon National Park continues history of hostility toward religion, and may become something of a cause célèbre among the right wing. The complaint, incidentally, refers irrelevantly to Donald Trump’s recent Executive Order on “religious freedom.”
This kind of thing gives ammunition to the young earth creationists and it was completely unavoidable. The story in Phoenix New Times suggests that reviewer Karl Karlstrom criticized Snelling's beliefs in a letter he sent to the Park Service in 2014.  Without that letter, it is hard to evaluate that charge.  It may be simply that he thought that Snelling's interpretation of the scriptures had no empirical support (which it doesn't).  That is not the same as criticizing his religious beliefs.  On the other hand, if he did criticize Snelling's beliefs, it will be much easier to get a charge of religious bias to stick.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

New Post on Homo naledi From Darrel Falk and Deb Haarsma

Darrel Falk and Deb Haarsma have teamed up on a new post about the peculiar South African hominin, Homo naledi, a find on which I reported a few days back.  Darrel Falk:
This is a wonderful time to be studying human origins. Scholars used to think that there was a slow steady progression of one single species after another becoming more and more human-like through time. That’s not the way it was at all. Although these fossils give no evidence for when H. naledi went extinct, it’s clear it was our contemporary in Africa for at least a little while. There also were at least several other hominin species outside of Africa at that same time. Some members of our species migrated out of Africa to Eurasia about 70,000 years ago, only to find that Homo neanderthalensis and the related, but distinctive Denisovans were already there. At the same time, the primitive diminutive species, H. florisiensis, occupied an island in Indonesia, and H. erectus was in eastern Asia. Meanwhile, back in Africa, we know from genetic evidence that, in addition to H. naledi, another unknown hominin species was present and interbred with our species as recently as 30,000 years ago. So our lineage shared life on this planet with a whole set of other species up until just a few thousand generations ago.
A bit back, I wrote a BioLogos post where I examined the hominin diversity in the early to middle Pleistocene, in which I asked the question How Many Forms Were There?  In that post, I pointed out that our simplistic notions of hominin taxonomy needed to be seriously re-evaluated. Where we once upon a time thought that there was only one species of hominin between 3 and 3.5 million years ago, there may, in fact, have been anywhere from three to five.  It is becoming more likely that this is a pattern that characterizes human evolution, perhaps, all the way up to the ascendancy of modern humans.  If this is so, then Bernard Wood is correct, in that we have many, many more species throughout the range of human evolution than we thought.  This discovery will cause a radical rethink of how we interpret species in the human fossil record.  Witness the rise of systematics.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Australopithecus sediba Voted Off the Island

This does not surprise me.  Science Magazine has a short story which suggests strongly that the characteristics in Au. sediba render it unsuitable for a possible ancestor to the genus Homo
With its fossils dated to 1.98 million years ago, Au. sediba is too young to be directly ancestral to all members of the genus Homo. But Berger and his colleagues proposed in 2010, and again in 2013 in six papers in Science, that given the many humanlike traits in Au. sediba’s face, teeth, and body, the Malapa fossils were a better candidate than Lucy or other East African fossils to be ancestral to Homo erectus, a direct human ancestor that appeared 1.8 million years ago.

In a talk here, though, paleoanthropologist Bill Kimbel of Arizona State University in Tempe analyzed the most complete skull of Au. sediba and systematically shot down the features claimed to link it to early Homo. Kimbel noted that the skull was that of a juvenile—a “7th grader”—whose face and skull were still developing. In his analysis, with paleoanthropologist Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University in Israel, he concluded that the child already showed traits that linked it most closely to the South African australopithecine Au. africanus, a species that lived in South Africa 3 million to 2.3 million years ago. And had it survived to adulthood, its humanlike facial traits would have changed to become even more like those of Au. africanus.

For example, the breadth of the young Au. sediba’s cheekbones appears narrow, as in early Homo. But by studying other australopithecine, ape, and Homo fossils to see how features of the cheekbones change as individuals grow and chewing muscles develop, Kimbel and Rak could predict how the boy’s face and skull would have looked if he’d grown up to be an adult. The resemblance to Au. africanus is so striking, in fact, that Kimbel thinks Au. sediba is a closely related “sister species” of Au. africanus—and not a long-lost human relative. “We don’t believe … that Au. sediba has a unique relationship to the genus Homo,” says Kimbel.
At this point, it is pretty hard to tell where a precursor might be found. We know that there was considerable variability in australopithecines throughout the Plio-Pleistocene but, as of yet, no good candidate has arisen.What seems to be clear, however, is that there is a general trend toward more modern morphology in the pelvis and hands, as exhibited by Au. sediba.  Whether or not these characteristics are present in other specimens of Au. sediba is, however, unknown.  As Kimbel notes, we need an adult one to see for sure. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

A Conversation with Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight, a New Testament professor at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and co-author of Adam and the Genome, with Dennis Venema, recently was interviewed and said that it was a BioLogos conference and the evidence he was told there that changed how he viewed the first three chapters of Genesis.  Baptist News Global has the scoop:
“The number one reason young people walk away from the faith is the conflict of their interpretation of Scripture with their interpretation of science,” he said. “Let it be emphasized that we are dealing here with the interpretation of Scripture, not necessarily Scripture’s truest meaning. And, yes, we are dealing with a theoretical construct called evolution.” McKnight said many people on both sides regard science and faith as “implacable enemies.”

“Some scientists think we are fools for believing in the Bible and therefore in Jesus,” he said, “while for some conservative theologians and pastors and bloggers, scientists are materialists, atheists, and those who think they are Christian and evolutionist are oblivious to the slippery slide they are halfway down.”

McKnight said the question he hears most often when discussing Gen. 1-3 is “do you believe in a historical Adam?” It’s a question “loaded with theological meaning,” he said, including belief that Adam and Eve were real people who had a “biological and procreative relationship with every human being who has ever lived” and that all people living today possess a share of their DNA.
I am about three-quarters of the way through the book and it is worth the read. He is one of a growing chorus of people (notably John Walton also) who are raising the concern that people are walking away from the faith because they get to college and encounter grounded science that conflicts with the non-grounded creationism they were taught in high school or home school.

It is clear that McKnight has read Walton, however.  Here is how he puts it:
McKnight said he doesn’t like the terms “myth,” “fable” and “legend” when applied to Genesis, so he uses “theological narrative.”

“I read the text as a theological narrative about God as creator, about humans assigned by God to a vocation in God’s cosmic temple on God’s sacred time, and I see the tragedy of humans who refuse to do what God said,” he said.
This perspective is absorbed from Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One, another book I am piecing through, which is considerably denser than Adam and the Genome but worthwhile, nonetheless. 

Surprising New Information About Homo naledi

The Atlantic (and other outlets) has a story on new information on the date of the Homo naledi fossils from Rising Star Cave and it is...surprising.  As Sarah Zhang writes:
The one thing everyone agrees is that the fossils themselves are spectacular. In 2015, researchers unveiled 1,500 hominin fossils found deep in a South African cave, excavated by six cavers who were all skinny, short, and female. The hominin, a new species the team christened Homo naledi, was an unusual mix of the old and modern. Their heads were small, suggesting an early hominin perhaps more than a million years old. But their feet were stiff for walking upright and their hands adept like modern humans.

So in the media frenzy that followed—a National Geographic cover, a documentary, numerous articles—the question kept coming up: How old are these Homo naledi fossils, really? What do they tell us, if anything, about the origin of Homo sapiens?

To that first question, the researchers now have an answer: 236,000 to 335,000 years old. As for the second question, well, it’s complicated. “You can’t tell simple stories anymore,” says Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand who led the research. “This is the gigantic message out of Homo naledi.” The age of these fossils puts these strange, small-brained yet human-like hominins in South Africa just before the emergence of the first anatomically modern Homo sapiens.
Holy Liang Bua, Batman!  If the bones really are 236k, then that would put them roughly 40-50 k years before the advent of modernity represented by the Omo 1 cranium.  Admittedly, that skull is fragments “swimming in plaster” but we have a pretty good idea of what it looks like. We certainly have modernity in the Bouri remains from Herto at 160 ky.

How do we know how old the fossil are?  From the eLife article:
Now, Dirks et al. – who include many of the researchers who were involved in the discovery of H. naledi – report that the fossils are most likely between 236,000 and 335,000 years old. These dates are based on measuring the concentration of radioactive elements, and the damage caused by these elements (which accumulates over time), in three fossilized teeth, plus surrounding rock and sediments from the cave chamber. Importantly, the most crucial tests were carried out at independent laboratories around the world, and the scientists conducted the tests without knowing the results of the other laboratories. Dirks et al. took these extra steps to make sure that the results obtained were reproducible and unbiased.
More specifically, they did Electron Spin Resonance (or Electron Paramagnetic Resonance), Uranium-Thorium disequilibrium, Optically Stimulated Resonance and radiocarbon dating.  This is probably not the last word on the dating of the fossils and there are quite a few assumptions that have been made regarding the provenance of the fossils to the cave sediments, but this is the closest thing that we currently have. One of the critical problems in dating much of the South African cave deposits is their relationship to the hominins found there.  Often, the caves opened up at the top and the fossil remains either fell in, were dropped in or they crawled in.  What makes the Rising Star remains so peculiar is that this cave did not form in the traditional way and the bones were so far into the cave. 

Where does this leave us? It leaves us with more questions than answers.  It has been common consensus that, while there was considerable variability in hominin morphology throughout the Pliocene and early to middle Pleistocene, that this "settled down" and that variability diminished as we made the transition to modern humans.  These fossils suggest the opposite: that large amounts of variability were, in fact, present throughout the range of human existence and only recently (200ky to the present) did this variability drop off.

I am quite sure that more studies will be done to elucidate the relationship that these fossils (there are more very similar fossils next door in the Lesedi cave complex) have to other forms in Africa.  There are obviously very peculiar cultural interactions going on, though (or lack, thereof).  With the Liang Bua remains in East Asia, hypotheses of endemic dwarfism and isolation have been put forth to explain why these remains are so diminutive and primitive.  It is more difficult to put forth these same arguments here where there are few to no barriers to migration and interaction between groups.