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.