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 ╬╝CT and 3D reconstructions of the two known specimens. Pyrgos Vassilissis and Azmaka are currently dated to the early Messinian at 7.175 Ma and 7.24 Ma. Mainly based on its external preservation and the previously vague dating, Graecopithecus is often referred to as nomen dubium. The examination of its previously unknown dental root and pulp canal morphology confirms the taxonomic distinction from the significantly older northern Greek hominine Ouranopithecus. Furthermore, it shows features that point to a possible phylogenetic affinity with hominins. G. freybergi uniquely shares p4 partial root fusion and a possible canine root reduction with this tribe and therefore, provides intriguing evidence of what could be the oldest known hominin.
Hominin, in this case, means humans and their premodern forms.  I think it is more than somewhat suspect to base a far-reaching hypothesis on one trait, even if it is the p4 root. It is commonly held that the last common ancestor of apes and humans was in Africa, sometime around 7.5 to 8 million years ago, but we have no fossil evidence to support that position.  While it is certainly true that the further back in time you go, the more ape-like our ancestors get, there is simply no smoking gun.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gallup: Belief in Creationism At All-Time Low

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Bryan College Gives Ken Ham Honorary Doctorate in Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Off-Topic: The Troubling State of Social Science

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

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

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

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

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