Showing posts from April, 2010

This week in Science

Anyone else tired of Noah's Ark? Great, then I have some really interesting articles in the latest Science we can read instead. First, the Xenopus tropicalis genome has been published. Results are pretty much as expected: 20,000 predicted genes in a 1.7 Gb genome (ten chromosomes). A third is transposable element, and it shares a great deal of conserved synteny with the chromosomes of other vertebrates (notably chicken and human).

Hellsten et al. 2010. The Genome of the Western Clawed Frog Xenopus tropicalis. Science 328:633-636.

Also interesting in the genome-sequencing department is the report of the complete genomes of a human family of four (two parents, two children). The research team directly estimated the mutation rate as 1.1 x 10-8. That should be a useful piece of knowledge.

Roach et al. 2010. Analysis of Genetic Inheritance in a Family Quartet by Whole-Genome Sequencing. Science 328:636-639.

Edwards et al. have an interesting review on the origin of C4 grasslands, whi…

Randall Price's official statement

Thanks to a reader, I've been alerted to Randall Price's official statement on the NAMI ark claim:

Statement of Dr. Randall Price on the Alleged Discovery of a Wooden Structure on Mt. Ararat by a Chinese-Turkish Expedition that is Claimed to be the Remains of Noah's Ark
While Dr. Price does not retract his statements, he wants the public to understand that these only represent his opinion as informed by his experience with the Kurdish guide and the Chinese and other sources in eastern Turkey. ...the only public statement he wishes to make at this time is that he believes that the greater the claim the greater the evidence needs to be to support it and urges the Chinese-Turkish team to make their collected samples from the structure available to scientists and scholars for comparative analysis. While he has reservations about the nature and procedure of the Chinese-Turkish expedition and the artifacts related to it, he believes that a decision concerning this matter must wait…

More on not Noah's Ark

The weirdness continues. Here's a blog with the full letter from Randall Price:
Randall Price: Ark Pictures are Fake

I understand a public statement from Price will soon appear. In the meantime, let's note a few points. Price says that this is a hoax played on NAMI. He says, "I am sorry to have to report this is apparently a fake (and I am sure that the Chinese do not know this, but they do not respond to my e-mails)." So they took your hundred grand, promised to return it, then ignored your requests for your money and your warnings about the fake ark. And now they won't return your emails. Why exactly do you think they're victims of a hoax?

Others are pointing out that Price is a competitor of NAMI, so we should be skeptical of his claims. As Price himself says, "I encourage your prayers for me and others who will have to explain this 'discovery' to many others – because negative reports are never well received and motives are question…

Absolutely not Noah's Ark

Sometimes I hate being right. The Chinese "Noah's Ark" discovery was apparently a scam, or at least that's what one of the investors said. Check out this blog, which quotes one Randal Price:

Noah’s Ark PaleoBabble Update
I was the archaeologist with the Chinese expedition in the summer of 2008 and was given photos of what they now are reporting to be the inside of the Ark. I and my partners invested $100,000 in this expedition (described below) which they have retained, despite their promise and our requests to return it, since it was not used for the expedition. The information given below is my opinion based on what I have seen and heard (from others who claim to have been eyewitnesses or know the exact details). To make a long story short: this is all reported to be a fake.So there you have it. You know, creationists give evolutionists a hard time over hoaxes like Piltdown, but frankly, we've got just as many skeletons in our closet. Paluxy, Durupinar, the …

Not Noah's Ark

UPDATE:Absolutely not Noah's Ark

I just noticed today's article at AIG: Has Noah's Ark been found?

Short answer: No.

To clarify, a Chinese group called Noah's Ark Ministries International announced over the weekend that they found the Ark at 12,000 feet up the side of Mt. Ararat in Turkey. Fox News reports the announcement with little critical commentary. The Daily Mail was considerably more skeptical, quoting Oxford University's Nicholas Purcell calling it "the usual nonsense."

If you visit the NAMI website, you'll find a number of pretty pictures of the inside of some kind of wooden structure. Notice that the locality of the discovery was not disclosed, and external photos of the discovery were not released. There was no report of a formal description of the find submitted for peer review either. Basically, the outside observer has no way of verifying the discovery (yet). You'll recall my fondness for hype-driven science.

Here's why I'm…

Theology editor needed

The BSG is looking for a volunteer to help us editing abstracts in the areas of biblical studies and theology. I don't really think a public appeal will work, but who knows? Stranger things have happened.

We would prefer someone with a terminal academic degree (Ph.D. or Th.D.) and some experience in editing. You can read the editorial manual as a PDF here. The workload is relatively light. Most years we get a handful (2-3) of abstracts in this area. Abstracts are submitted at the end of March and are edited in April and May. Once in a great while there might be a whole paper to edit. Anyone agreeing to help us would also be listed as a member of the BSG editorial board on the website and in each issue of the Occasional Papers of the BSG. There is no term limit, and you can quit when you like.

Interested? Suggestions or recommendations? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

I was wrong!!!!

I was wrong, and I'm unusually happy about it. Earlier this year I posted a note about carefully examining the Scripture, wherein I claimed that even without Genesis 1, I would still be something like a young age creationist. I wrote,
If Genesis 1 was not part of Genesis at all, I would still be something very similar to a young-age creationist. The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 would still imply a young age of human beings, and the account of the creation of the Garden of Eden would imply a recent origin of at least some land animals and all birds. Special creation of humans, land animals, and birds would be inconsistent with acceptance of universal common descent, which in turn would call into question the fossil record, which seems to show a much more ancient origin of birds. I think one could even make a case for no death before the Fall, but it would be weakened without the herbivory statements of Gen. 1:29-30. No death before human sin would then require a …

Darwin at last

Many months ago I mentioned that the 29-volume works of Charles Darwin were being reprinted in an affordable paperback edition by New York University Press. Though Darwin's works are now online, there is still great pleasure and convenience in being able to sit back and read a regular book. So I ordered a set for the CORE library. After being on the waiting list for the reprint and fixing a mix-up with the credit card, I am delighted to report that the works have just arrived. They look great. If you're in the market for some interesting reading (and certainly definitive reading in the origins debate), I definitely recommend the set.

Waltke's resignation

As most of you know, Bruce Waltke resigned from his position at Reformed Theological Seminary over a video posted at the BioLogos website (see part of the story here). There was an immediate sensationalized overreaction, with some commentators likening Waltke to Galileo (oh please) and condemning RTS for its oppressive lack of "academic freedom." Other conservative voices took the opportunity to dump salt in the wound and denounce theistic evolution. I didn't find Waltke's views the least bit surprising. I've known for at least four or five years that he advocated something like theistic evolution. That's why I'm a bit surprised by the reaction. Isn't this old news?

Anyway, I found a few thoughtful and informative reactions that I thought I'd pass along. Here's a reaction from RTS student Jake Belder and a careful, nonsensational article by Don Clements from The Aquila Report.

Neandertals bred with humans?

I'm not really surprised.

Neanderthals may have interbred with humans

The description in the news report is a bit vague, but it's intriguing nonetheless. We'll have to wait for the paper to get the full details, I guess. This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in Answers magazine a few years ago.

Osedax AWOL

This is weird. There is a press-release making the rounds (ScienceDaily, Science Codex, LiveScience, Not Exactly Rocket Science) about evidence of Osedax ("boneworms" that eat whale bones) from fossils 30 million years old. Here's the release from University of Kiel:
An international team of scientists led by the paleontologist Steffen Kiel at the University of Kiel, Germany, found the first fossil boreholes of the worm Osedax that consumes whale bones on the deep-sea floor. They conclude that "boneworms" are at least 30 Million years old. This result was published in the current issue of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS, April 19, 2010).

Six years ago Osedax was first described based on specimens living on a whale carcass in 2891 m depth off California. Since then paleontologists have been searching for fossil evidence to pin down its geologic age. Now researchers at the Institute of Geoscienc…

Your advice sought

It's that time of year again. I just finished writing up CORE's annual report for Bryan College, and I've been thinking quite seriously about how to improve our public outreach. I have been encouraged to think about using new media, and I'd like your reaction to the following ideas. Do you like them? Anything stick out as especially interesting? Anything you especially dislike?

1. We have regular lectures here at the college as part of our origins journal club. We could record these talks and post them as streaming audio or video for free.

2. We could produce some nicer videos of the journal club presentations from CORE faculty and post them as streaming video for free. These would be professionally recorded and would integrate graphics.

3. We could create an online course (or more) that anyone could take. This would involve a fee, but you would get college credit. I was thinking about a basic introduction to origins and science that would cover (and expand on…

What are you reading?

Here for no other reason than pure curiosity, I give you the most popular issues of the Occasional Papers of the BSG. In terms of total downloads, the top three are:

1. The Chimpanzee Genome and the Problem of Biological Similarity (1682 downloads)
2. A Refined Baramin Concept (1326 downloads)
3. All Creation Groans: Proceedings of the Sixth BSG Conference [PDF] (1291 downloads)

In downloads per month, these are the top three:

1. Irreducible Complexity and Relative Irreducible Complexity: Foundations and Applications (141.8 downloads/month)
2. Genesis Kinds: Creationism and the Origin of Species: Proceedings of the Eighth BSG Conference [PDF] (98.9 downloads/month)
3. The Chimpanzee Genome and the Problem of Biological Similarity (76.5 downloads/month)

In the interest of fairness, here are the least popular in downloads/month:

1. A Baraminological Analysis of the Tribe Heliantheae sensu lato (Asteraceae) Using Analysis of Pattern (ANOPA) (30.1 downloads/month)
2. Bishop John Wilkins, F…

This was predictable

What's it been? Two days since I posted about sediba? I really intended to give it a rest, but...

Two of the heavy hitters in creationism have weighed in on the identity of Au. sediba. Over at CMI, neuroscientist Peter Line says sediba is just an ape that had nothing to do with human evolution. Over at ICR, science writer Brian Thomas says ... honestly, I'm not entirely sure what he says. He criticizes evolution, but he never really comes out and says what he thinks sediba is. Here's the closest he gets:
So, not only does the discovery of A. sediba--which was dated as contemporaneous with true man--fail to provide a human ancestor in keeping with the story of human evolution, but according to the authors it is not even possible to figure out if or how A. sediba relates with other creatures in an evolutionary context!So he doesn't think that sediba is an ancestor within the context of human evolution, but what does he think it is in the context of creationism? …

Truffle genome

Nature published a truffle genome yesterday. I would have said something yesterday, but I had trouble with their website all day.

Martin et al. 2010. Périgord black truffle genome uncovers evolutionary origins and mechanisms of symbiosis. Nature 464:1033-1038.

The abstract:
The Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum Vittad.) and the Piedmont white truffle dominate today’s truffle market. The hypogeous fruiting body of T. melanosporum is a gastronomic delicacy produced by an ectomycorrhizal symbiont endemic to calcareous soils in southern Europe. The worldwide demand for this truffle has fuelled intense efforts at cultivation. Identification of processes that condition and trigger fruit body and symbiosis formation, ultimately leading to efficient crop production, will be facilitated by a thorough analysis of truffle genomic traits. In the ectomycorrhizal Laccaria bicolor, the expansion of gene families may have acted as a ‘symbiosis toolbox’. This feature may however reflect evoluti…

The missing link?

Reading through Carl Zimmer's Slate piece, "Yet another 'missing link'" got me wondering about how quickly the term was adopted for the concept of the critter that connected human to ape in evolution. So I did a highly scientific google books search for the term "missing link" in books published in the 1860s. After spending fifteen whole minutes skimming over the results, I am convinced that my survey has barely scratched the surface. Here's what I found:

I first encountered the missing link in 1863 in a book called Man; or, The Old and New Philosophy by Rev. B.W. Saville. I have never heard of Rev. B.W. Saville, but here's what he had to say,
It is a continued source of lament among the savants of the present day that there is no sign of the missing link, even in a fossil state, between Pithecus and Homo, whether it be Adam or his first human grandpapa. We venture to think that we have discovered some notice of the said missing link, and if o…

Home again

Thanks to everyone who came out to hear me speak at Messiah College on Saturday. I thought the symposium went really well, and I was very happy to see and meet folks who have been reading this blog. Thanks also to Ted Davis for the invitation and for the great hospitality.

Now I'm home for the next few months. I think my next big trip will be Evolution 2010, June 25-29 in Portland, Oregon. In the meantime, I've got plenty of work I want to get done. As you might imagine, this week will likely be consumed by Australopithecus sediba (and my tax return, but that's boring in comparison).

Speaking of sediba, Bob Simon did a report on Lee Berger and the discovery on 60 Minutes last night. (To be completely honest, I had no idea it was coming. I just flipped on the TV right before my usual Sunday addiction, The Amazing Race.) Here's the embed from

As I watched, part of me (a very small part) was thinking about the manufactured hype over Ida. I think this si…

More on Australopithecus sediba

Before I jet off to Pennsylvania, I wanted to comment again on the newly announced Au. sediba. I'm getting a lot of google traffic from people looking for a creationist response, and I didn't give a very satisfying one yesterday. So here's attempt #2 (there will be another attempt in the future).

Here's what you'll get from most creationists: "It's an ape." That might even satisfy many of you. In the long run, though, I think it's unsatisfactory. The problem is its head. Au. sediba has the most human-looking head of any australopith I've seen, even though the body looks very apish, with its really long arms. This has been a hallmark of creationist interpretation of australopiths: that they are mosaics of facultative bipeds (meaning they can walk around on two legs) and tree dwellers (indicated by long forearms). If I had only the (remarkable) skeletons to judge from, I'd probably say it was obviously an ape. But then there's t…

Australopithecus sediba

Well, I was wrong. The paper did not appear in Nature; it was published in Science.

Here's the Science Daily take:
New Hominid Shares Traits With Homo Species: Fossil Find Sheds Light on the Transition to Homo Genus from Earlier Hominids

The Science special website (complete with movie of reconstructed skull):

And the papers from Science:

Berger et al. 2010. Australopithecus sediba: A New Species of Homo-Like Australopith from South Africa. Science 328:195-204. [PDF]
Abstract: Despite a rich African Plio-Pleistocene hominin fossil record, the ancestry of Homo and its relation to earlier australopithecines remain unresolved. Here we report on two partial skeletons with an age of 1.95 to 1.78 million years. The fossils were encased in cave deposits at the Malapa site in South Africa. The skeletons were found close together and are directly associated with craniodental remains. Together they represent a new species of Australopithecus that is probab…

John Ray on science

Actually, this quote is John Ray on botany, but I think it applies to a lot of science. It comes from his Catalogus Plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium (1660), here given as an English translation from Ray's Flora of Cambridgeshire (Trans. Ewen and Prime, Wheldon & Wesley, Hitchin, Herts, 1975?):
I readily admit, that, as human affairs are now, such studies do not greatly contribute to the accumulation of wealth or to the winning of favor of our fellow-men, nevertheless I know of no occupation which is more worthy or more delightful for a free man than to contemplate the beauteous works of Nature and to honour the infinite wisdom and goodness of God the Creator.

Sloth symbiosis

Remember the old stories about how sloths are so slow that algae grows on them? No? Well, it's true!

A new paper in BMC Evolutionary Biology reports on DNA sequences from sloth fur. Suutari et al. looked at all six sloth species and found that one third of the recovered sequences were green algae. They also found ciliates, apicomplexans, dinoflagellates, fungi, euglenas, arthropods, and red algae. One green alga (found in four of the six species) was apparently a species of Trichophilus, and Hoffmann's two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) and the pale-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) had unique Trichophilus species that were different from other sloths. The maned three-toed sloth (B. torquatus) had typical environmental algae in its hair and no Trichophilus.

More nifty symbiosis. I suppose the sloths could be getting some kind of camouflage from the relationship, but I'm not sure what the algae would get out of it. Maybe just a substrate to grow on? …

Another new hominid?

On the heels of the Denisova hominin mtDNA sequence comes this somewhat cryptic article in the Telegraph from Saturday:
Missing link between man and apes found

On Sunday, the same author (Richard Gray) gave us this article, which is far less informative about the actual fossil:
Fossil could rewrite human evolution

The first article describes a juvenile hominid skeleton from South Africa discovered by Lee Berger from University of the Witwatersrand. The skeleton is supposed to "be identified as a new species that fits somewhere between Australopithicus [sic] and Homo habilis." Gray writes:
Palaeontologists and human evolutionary experts behind the discovery have remained silent about the exact details of what they have uncovered, but the scientific community is already abuzz with anticipation of the announcement of the find when it is made on Thursday.Thursday, eh? That's the same day that Nature traditionally publishes. Might we expect a formal paper this Thursday?


Remember that Creation movie?

Regular readers might recall last fall I posted quite a bit about the new Darwin biopic from director John Amiel, titled Creation. The film opened the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, from which a few reviews trickled out, including Roger Ebert's. Then the producers tried to create some controversy by claiming that creationists were keeping the film from getting an American distribution deal. Clever people were not fooled by this nonsense, and the film was eventually picked up by Newmarket, the company that distributed The Passion of the Christ (a film that stirred up real controversy). It opened on January 22, 2010.

I wish I could write my review here, but it has not come to a theater anywhere near me. According to Box Office Mojo, its widest release was in twelve whole theaters. Critical response has been tepid. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 46% (certified rotten) based on 90 reviews, with such memorable quotes as
"A great moment in the history of ideas does not …

Seminar at Messiah College

On Saturday, April 10, I'll be doing a seminar at Messiah College entitled "Creationism as Science." The event is sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science. It's a three-part series that looks at historical and current trends in young-age creationism. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion. My three sessions are:
The Failure of Creationism. At the emergence of modern science, many individuals treated Genesis as an historical document. Today, that is obviously not the case. At the heart of this shift is a particular mode of scriptural interpretation that allowed the historicity of Genesis to be set aside. An alternative creationist approach to science and scripture is developed in this lecture.The Progress of Creationism. A sampling of creationist ideas from the foundation of science to the present will be examined, with particular emphasis on the debates within creationism that have improved crea…

CNV in Nature

This week's Nature celebrates the tenth anniversary of the publication of the human genome sequence. Two new articles surveyed Copy Number Variations (CNVs) in hundreds of human individuals. CNVs are kinds of mutations that occur when (typically small) regions of the human genome are duplicated or deleted. CNVs can be a few hundred nucleotides up to thousands of nucleotides, and they are fairly common. It might surprise you to learn that most of us are walking around a few thousand nucleotides short of a genome (though I did have my suspicions about some people I know).

Conrad et al. looked at nearly 5000 CNVs in 450 European, African, and East Asian individuals. They found only 30 that might influence susceptibility to disease. The rest do not seem to be associated with diseases. In the other article, the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium examined 3400 CNVs in 19,000 individuals (16,000 with diseases, 3000 without). They found three CNVs associated with conditions lik…