Monday, September 18, 2017

Greek Fossil Site Vandalized

Someone has vandalized the site containing the 5.7 million year old footprints in Crete.  Australian News Limited reports:
Some four to 10 prints appear to have been hacked out of the rock.

And graffiti has been sprayed over much of the remainder.

It’s an attack with devastating implications for the science of understanding humanity’s past.

“We are fortunate that many of the best tracks remain — the people who did it clearly didn’t know what they were looking for,” Professor Bennett writes. “Our guess is that they were simply intending to sell them.”

The site had been recognised under Greek heritage laws, and local authorities were supposed to be watching it.

Greek media reports a 55-year-old man has been arrested in western Crete and that many of the prints may have been recovered.
I certainly hope so. And I certainly hope that very hefty fines and possibly jail terms will be levied against those involved. As for the people in the organization that was supposed to be watching the site, I hope they are out of a job.

Time will have to tell how much damage was actually done but this is nothing less than a travesty.  Because truly stupid people are never in short supply, many of the Neandertal sites in Europe were also looted before they could be fully excavated.  This should be embarrassing to the Greek government. 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

5.7 Million Year-Old Human Footprints Found on Greek Island of Crete

Great Googlymoogly!  This one is lighting up all over the Internet.  Fossil footprints have been found in the southern Greek Island of Crete, near the village of Trachilos, that appear to have the distinctive heel-toe-off gait of bipedal humans.  The catch? The prints are 5.7 million years old!  From PhysOrg:
Human feet have a very distinctive shape, different from all other land animals. The combination of a long sole, five short forward-pointing toes without claws, and a hallux ("big toe") that is larger than the other toes, is unique. The feet of our closest relatives, the great apes, look more like a human hand with a thumb-like hallux that sticks out to the side. The Laetoli footprints, thought to have been made by Australopithecus, are quite similar to those of modern humans except that the heel is narrower and the sole lacks a proper arch. By contrast, the 4.4 million year old Ardipithecus ramidus from Ethiopia, the oldest hominin known from reasonably complete fossils, has an ape-like foot. The researchers who described Ardipithecus argued that it is a direct ancestor of later hominins, implying that a human-like foot had not yet evolved at that time.

The new footprints, from Trachilos in western Crete, have an unmistakably human-like form. This is especially true of the toes. The big toe is similar to our own in shape, size and position; it is also associated with a distinct 'ball' on the sole, which is never present in apes. The sole of the foot is proportionately shorter than in the Laetoli prints, but it has the same general form. In short, the shape of the Trachilos prints indicates unambiguously that they belong to an early hominin, somewhat more primitive than the Laetoli trackmaker. They were made on a sandy seashore, possibly a small river delta, whereas the Laetoli tracks were made in volcanic ash.
And now, the other shoe.  How do we know how old the fossil footprints are?  
The coastal rocks at Trachilos, west of Kissamos Harbour in western Crete (Fig. 1a–c), lie within the Platanos Basin, and present a succession of shallow marine late Miocene carbonates and siliciclastics of the Roka Formation, a local development of the Vrysses Group (Freudenthal, 1969 ; van Hinsbergen and Meulenkamp, 2006; Figs. 1d, e and 3a, b). At the top, this marine succession terminates abruptly in the coarse-grained terrigenous sedimentary rocks of the Hellenikon Group (Figs. 1d and 3e, f), which formed by the desiccation of the Mediterranean Basin during the Messinian Salinity Crisis (van Hinsbergen and Meulenkamp, 2006), an event dated to approximately 5.6 Ma (Govers, 2009). The succession (Fig. 1d) contains an emergent horizon with well-preserved terrestrial trace fossils and microbially induced sedimentary structures (Fig. 3d) immediately overlying shallow water ripplemark structures (Fig. 3c).1
So, the authors are a tad more circumspect than the writers of the PhysOrg story.  The authors posit two hypotheses for their results: 1. the tracks represent the gait of a basal hominin, which explains the non-divergence and shape of the big toe as well as the shape of the ends of the other toes, which resemble those of a human foot and not a non-human foot.  This fits approximately with the dates of the north African remains of Orrorin and, perhaps, that of Sahelanthropus (although that is pretty much a surface find).

The Messinian Crisis was a period of time during the Miocene epoch during which the Mediterranean Sea almost completely dried up.  This crisis began around 6 million years ago and ended around 5.3 million years ago with what is known as the Zanclean flood.  It is estimated that once the barrier at the Strait of Gibraltar was broken, the Mediterranean Sea refilled within two years, which means that the sea level rose at an estimated 30 feet per day.

Okay...now, lets go back here, to the story that came out about four months ago, establishing the possibility that the last common ancestor to apes and humans was in Europe.  In that study, a jaw with human root patterns and an isolated premolar that have both been attributed to Graecopithecus, were re-examined and found by the researchers to have hominin affinities, a surprising conclusion, given their age of 7.15 million years.  At the time that story appeared, I remarked that it was a bit of a stretch to hang one's hat on one premolar and partial ape-like mandible, but in the context of the new finds, maybe not so much.  This strengthens the (admittedly far-fetched) notion that our ancestors did, in fact, originate somewhere in southeast Mediterranean Europe and, over the course of the next two and half million years ago, migrated south to north Africa.

As Per Ahlberg was quoted as saying:
"This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate. Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen."
This is huge news.  Even if we can't place the LCA in southern Europe, we now have bipedalism extending back into the late Miocene. 


1Gerard D. Gierliński et al, Possible hominin footprints from the late Miocene (c. 5.7 Ma) of Crete?, Proceedings of the Geologists' Association (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.07.006


Will Moroccan Schools Teach Evolution Again

Writing for the Morocco World News, Amal Ben Hadda wonders if the discovery of more early modern human remains from the site of Jebel Irhoud will prompt the government to reintroduce evolution into the curriculum:
While these new discoveries are “shaking up” the scientific community, we should ask ourselves why these theories of evolution are not being taught in Moroccan schools. Why is this scientific approach to revealing the origin of humanity not considered in the manuals programs?

From a religious perspective, some Muslim scholars support the study of human evolutionary theory. The different levels of human conception are mentioned in many verses in the Quran. However, the exegeses of these verses have been influenced by Talmudic interpretations of the Torah and have been accepted as authentic versions of the human “genesis”. As an example of this influence, there is the creation of woman from Adam’s rib. This version, interpreted from the Torah and resumed by mainstream Islamic exegeses, doesn’t exist in the Quran.

In the original text of the Torah, the chapter Genesis shows in 1:27 that man and woman were conceived at the same level and no one is superior to another. However, this woman was diabolized by the patriarchal tradition. Only the version of the creation of woman from Adam’s rib named Eve is considered by the creationists as per the interpretations of the Genesis 2:23.
It is interesting to note that Islam seems to have the same issue that Christianity does in that modern interpretations of scripture have taken hold within a large subset of Muslims regarding this issue.  In Christianity, the days of creation were never originally written as seven sequential, 24-hour periods, yet that is the perspective of a large number of conservative evangelical Christians.  He author calls for a neutral interpretation of the Koran.  I would argue that we need a similar interpretation of the Bible. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

Meanwhile, Over in South Korea...

The Korea Times is running a story about the controversy over creationism in South Korea.  Park Jae-hyuk writes:
The deep-rooted dispute over creationism has arisen here again after Park Seong-jin, the designate for SMEs and startups minister, was found to have worked for an institute supporting what most scientists regard as pseudoscience.

Creationism is a fundamentalist Christian movement that denies the theory of evolution and considers Biblical creation stories as proven facts.

Although Park told reporters this week that he “respects” the theory of evolution despite his religious beliefs, controversy over the issue will highly likely go on, given that opposition parties are expected to mention it during the upcoming confirmation hearing.

“As a Christian, I have a faith in a religion based on creation, but I do not believe creation as a science,” the minister nominee told reporters. “I’ve never individually studied creation science either.”

In response to his remarks during a symposium at Yonsei University in 2007 that “People armed with belief in creation should be deployed in every fields of society,” Park explained the remarks were just made for guests from the United States.

Saying that faith is not subject to qualification, Cheong Wa Dae has dismissed the controversy. Park quit his position as director at the Korea Association for Creation Research (KACR) just a day before his nomination.
It is not a given that this will create problems for South Korean science any more than the appointment of Betsy DeVos will in this country. That is predicated, however, on the idea that the two forms of government are broadly similar in behavior. If they are not, then things could change.Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

More Bad News From Turkey

It seems that, in Turkey, there will be no teaching of evolution any longer.  NPR reports:
When children in Turkey head back to school this fall, something will be missing from their textbooks: any mention of evolution.

The Turkish government is phasing in what it calls a values-based curriculum. Critics accuse Turkey's president of pushing a more conservative, religious ideology — at the expense of young people's education.

At a playground in an upscale, secular area of Istanbul, parents and grandparents express concern over the new policy.

"I'm worried, but I hope it changes by the time my grandchildren are in high school," says Emel Ishakoglu, a retired chemical engineer playing with her grandchildren, ages 5 and 2. "Otherwise our kids will be left behind compared to other countries when it comes to science education."

With a curriculum that omits evolution, Ishakoglu worries her grandchildren won't get the training they'll need if they want to grow up to be scientists like her.
While it is certainly true that this kind of thing also happens sporadically in the United States, like here, what is going on in Turkey is entirely religiously-based.  The interpretation of scripture, in this case, the Koran, will always come first. 

Henry Morris was once asked where Hell was.  His response was that it was directly beneath our feet.  When pressed with the knowledge of observations that there is no place for Hell in the center of the earth because the earth is solid down to the core, he replied that the sounding equipment had to be wrong because that is where the scriptures tell us it is.  It is very hard to fight against that level of strict ideology.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New DNA Analysis Allows for Greater Understanding of Modern Human Prehistory

From Science Daily:
A University of Utah-led team developed a new method for analyzing DNA sequence data to reconstruct the early history of the archaic human populations. They revealed an evolutionary story that contradicts conventional wisdom about modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans.

The study1 found that the Neanderthal-Denisovan lineage nearly went extinct after separating from modern humans. Just 300 generations later, Neanderthals and Denisovans diverged from each other around 744,000 years ago. Then, the global Neanderthal population grew to tens of thousands of individuals living in fragmented, isolated populations scattered across Eurasia.

"This hypothesis is against conventional wisdom, but it makes more sense than the conventional wisdom." said Alan Rogers, professor in the Department of Anthropology and lead author of the study that will publish online on August 7, 2017 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
As the authors note, there is mounting evidence of a migration from Africa to Europe, likely by way of the Strait of Gibraltar, in which Acheulean stone tools are introduced by a group which became known as Homo heidelbergensis.  This group, subsequently, split, likely gave rise to the Neandertals  and the Denisovans a bit later.  Then, a second wave of migrations around 90 to 100 ky happened, during which there was hybridization between Neandertals, moderns and Denisovans.

We live in a time where we now have the genomes of archaic Africans, Eurasians, Neandertals, Denisovans and early moderns and can compare them using site pattern analysis.  These authors found that
  • In contrast to previous studies, this one indicates that Neandertal population size was large, on the order of tens of thousands of people, in isolated populations
  • The split between the Neandertals and Denisovans was early, on the order of 744 thousand years ago.  
  • By the time you find these hominins in the fossil record, they had already split from the Denisovans, which explains why the Atapuerca Sima De Los Huesos hominins resemble Neandertals more than Denisovans.
  • Therefore, Neandertal features are thought to have emerged over a long period of time in Europe. 
This analysis will help us rethink our understanding of the fossil material from Gran Dolina, which now likely represents a population from which both the Denisovans and Neandertals split.  This makes sense, given the general, non-derived nature of the fossil material from there.  Things are slowly (maybe?) falling into place.

1Alan R. Rogers, Ryan J. Bohlender, and Chad D. Huff. Early history of Neanderthals and Denisovans. PNAS, August 2017 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1706426114

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New 13 Million-Year-Old Miocene Ape Discovery in Kenya

National Geographic (and other outlets) is reporting on a new skull discovered in northern Kenya, near Lake Turkana that is 13 million years old and may reflect the morphology of a sister group to the stem group of hominoids, the group that contains modern apes and humans.  Michael Greshko writes:

“We’ve been looking for ape fossils for years—this is the first time we’re getting a skull that’s complete,” says Isaiah Nengo, the De Anza College anthropologist who led the discovery, supported by a National Geographic Society grant and the Stony Brook University-affiliated Turkana Basin Institute.

Roughly the size of a lemon, the skull belongs to a newly identified species of early ape named Nyanzapithecus alesi. Some of its features resemble those of today’s living Old World monkeys and apes, and the face bears a striking resemblance to today’s infant gibbons.

What’s more, N. alesi offers insight into early apes’ brains, the team reports in their study, published today in Nature. With a volume of about seven tablespoons, N. alesi’s brain cavity was more than double that of other Old World monkeys from the time.
The Miocene is generally thought of as the “Age of the Apes” because there were so many genera (30) and species (over 40) of apes pretty much all over the Old World. As the authors note, however, up to this point, most of the remains have been just jaws and teeth.  This skull is an incredible find and will add immensely to our understanding of this time period. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Full Page Ad in Chattanooga Times Free Press: Livesay Resign!

A number of alumni and former faculty of Bryan College took out a full-page ad in the Chattanooga Times Free Press calling on President Stephen Livesay to resign from the college and for the Board of Trustees to resign as well.  The ad showed up in the print edition of the paper but has been transcribed to a page on Change.org here.  It 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).
Rather than doing its job as a supervisory body that exercises authority over the president, the Bryan Board of Trustees has passively and blindly followed the president.
It is difficult to know what effect this letter will have on Livesay. There is nothing quite like being universally disliked.  It is clear that the fortunes and reputation of the college have taken a huge hit, so much so that Mike Adams, the conservative columnist and faculty at UNC Wilmington, has suggested that the college be shut down.  There are very few things worse for a Christian college than to be accused of ethical violations and moral turpitude.  I'm not sure how this one is going to turn out.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Ken Ham Takes Potshot at Bill Nye on Climate Change

Ken Ham...Bill Nye...a plague on both of your houses.  While Bill Nye is out trying to save the world, and Ken Ham is out trying to save the world, the two of them tangled again.  First, Bill Nye was quoted as saying that we will only get serious about climate change when the older generation, who he claims comprise the largest group of climate change deniers, dies off.  From Mandy Mayfield:
“Climate change deniers, by way of example, are older. It's generational,” Nye told the Los Angeles Times. Nye said that he is calling them out with “due respect,” acknowledging that he is “now one of them.”

“We're just going to have to wait for those people to 'age out,' as they say," Nye went on, adding that “age out” is a euphemism for “die.” “But it'll happen, I guarantee you — that'll happen.”
Ken Ham took exception to this. As the Gospel Herald Society notes:
Ham accused Nye of "decrying the older generation" with his comments.

"He knows the younger generation are by and large more brainwashed in secularism and evolutionary teaching and are generally not taught how to think critically," Ham said. "Thus, he is hoping the younger generation will be more supportive of his false anti-observational science views of climate change."

As earlier reported, Nye previously came under fire when, on the season finale of his Netflix show, "Bill Nye Saves the World," he suggested that American families ought to be penalized for having "extra kids" as a solution to overpopulation and climate change.
Well, first off, accepting evolutionary theory and the evidence for an old earth do not constitute a rejection of critical thinking.  If you accept the argument that scientific evidence supports the young earth position, then you need to apply critical thinking to this argument.  Many problems occur when you do.

Here is an example of what I mean: I recently attended a Classical Conversations home school meeting in advance of the new school year.  At the meeting, someone had, for sale, a timeline of history.  I noticed a few odd things about the timeline.
  • It began in 4004 B.C., a date commonly accepted in young earth creationist circles but reflecting a somewhat facile interpretation of the biblical chronologies, which have been shown by numerous theologians and biblical historians to be incomplete or replete with symbolism.  
  • It places the world-wide flood squarely at 2500 B.C.
  • The early Egyptian, Minoan and Sumerian histories are completely absent.  The reason for this is, of course, that if the flood happened in 2500 B.C., anything happening elsewhere in the world not recorded in Genesis simply didn't happen.  No Chinese histories dating back prior to the Shang Dynasty are recorded, either.  
How do you square these things with “critical thinking?”  Objectively, these histories reflect real people, living in real places, doing real things.

As far as Bill Nye is concerned, whatever there was of the objective, humble scientist that did "Bill Nye, The Science Guy" seems long gone, replaced by some loud, obnoxious SJW in a lab coat.  Where once he gave kids a presentation on what it means to be either XY or XX, he is now hawking "Sex Junk" a truly awful video on sex.

Further, his idea of penalizing American families for having extra kids is laughable on its face.  Our population replacement rate is already treading water, as it is.  In Europe and Japan, the populations aren't replacing themselves.  In Japan, schools are closing down because there are not enough rising students to fill them.  If a population does not replace itself, society collapses.  This fact seems to be lost on these climate warriors.

Both Bill Nye and Ken Ham have incredibly warped views on science.  One was a mechanical engineer and the other has an undergraduate degree in science education.  Apparently, neither of those backgrounds are being put to good use. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ken Ham Sells Ark Encounter Land Back To Himself

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Continuing Downward Spiral of Bryan College

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

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

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

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

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

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





Monday, July 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ark Encounter: Profit or Non-Profit?

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Young Earth Creationism: Now Transitional Fossils Are Okay

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

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

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

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

Wut?

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.

Ever.

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.

Ever.

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.