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Showing posts from May, 2010

Creationist finances revisited

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Three years ago, Jim Lippard posted a series about creationist finances on his blog. The final summary contains links to all the previous articles. I found the whole thing quite fascinating and illuminating. Lippard noted a number of trends and made a few suggestions that I thought warranted revisiting. So here we go.

First, a few of Lippard's more interesting observations/suggestions:
1. The marketplace for creationism has been growing.
2. Answers in Genesis' market share has grown and dominates the market.
3. The Institute for Creation Research has had a declining market share.
4. The Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture has had a fairly static market share (overrepresented here, as well, since their numbers include other branches of the DI).
5. Other creationist groups have tended to lose market share in the face of Answers in Genesis's dominance, even if their overall revenue has grown. Also of interesting was the question of whether the …

Oh the irony

In the midst of my dissection of Reasons to Believe's podcast on the Neandertal genome (Parts One, Two, and Three), I received an automated email from RTB:
Dear Todd,

The last several years have seen RTB step out in using the latest technology to expand our outreach and our scope. ... Will you make a donation of $35 or more before the end of May to help RTB continue to use the latest technology to expand our outreach and our scope?
...
Counting on you,

Hugh RossPure hilarity! Sorry, but I'm afraid I won't be donating $35 to RTB by the end of May. Considering RTB raked in nearly $3.3 million in gross receipts from July, 2008 to June, 2009 [PDF], I don't think my measly $35 will be missed.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Pondering the Image of God

After reading my sediba paper, one of my students asked, "Why would God allow such similarities between His created Image and another portion of Creation?" Great question. I don't have the answer, but if we reflect a little on the image of God, we might begin to understand the question a little better.

First of all, the concept of the "image of God" appears most prominently in Genesis 1: 26-27:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
(ESV)The image of God also appears in Genesis 9:6, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image" (ESV). It has a few obvious parallels, as in Gene…

Neandertal non sequitur

In my previous works on anthropological topics, I maintained that creationists do not at present have a model to explain biological similarity. In my chimp genome paper, I elaborate the reasons for this in some detail. In my hominid baraminology paper, I merely cite Darwin's claim that similarities form a pattern that looks like a genealogy, thus supporting the inference of common ancestry.

I've been criticized for this stance, but I'm not going to address those criticisms today. I'll just assert that I'm correct, which I am. The fact of similarity is easy to account for. Being created by one God would be a good reason for some degree of similarity to exist. Likewise, being created to occupy the same world or to participate in the same ecosystem would also necessitate some biological similarity. These types of considerations could explain why all living things use the same basic biochemical building blocks (amino acids, nucleotides, etc.), for example.

What th…

Neandertals in bizarro world

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When the Neandertal genome was published with its impressive evidence of interbreeding with modern Homo sapiens, I wrote,
I do think these results bode poorly for Reasons to Believe, but I'm sure they'll come up with some kind of spin to explain why these results do not support their idea of Neandertals as non-human animals. That should be entertaining.To satisfy my curiosity, I checked out their website last week and found lots of anti-Neandertal articles. Their big statement came in an hour-long podcast, which you'll find on their podcast page. It turns out I was wrong. Their response was not entertaining. It was mindboggling and in places irritating. First let's review the RTB position, then I'll dissect a few claims from their podcast. There are so many bizarro claims in this podcast, I'll have to deal with them over a series of posts.

Reasons to Believe is an old-earth creationist ministry (a "think tank" as they describe themselves). Ac…

BSG/CGS conference addendum

One point I forgot to mention: If you are flying in and looking for transportation from the Atlanta airport, let us know. We should be able to accommodate such requests.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Human species

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My post on species concepts and humans generated even more feedback. One reader asks:
I assume you are fully aware that experts in a given field often disagree on species designations and that politics can strongly influence whether or not something is classified as a separate species.Were you going to talk some more about what species really are, or have you already done that in the past? You said that see no evidence of speciation in extant humans ... what is the criteria for speciation that you are looking for?I will be interested in hearing you elucidate your take on the definition of species and, more specifically, why you believe Neaderthals fit these criteria.I had not planned to go into greater detail on species, mostly because of the disagreements over species concepts or identifications I view as much less important than baramins. I am well aware of the "lumpers" and "splitters" and the many, many competing species concepts. I just don't think they…

I still can't pronounce it

How To Say 'Eyjafjallajokull' In Song

For more volcanic fun, see Andrew Snelling's retrospective on Mt. St. Helens from AIG:

Thirtieth Anniversary of a Geologic Catastrophe

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

BSG/CGS conference registration now available

The 2010 BSG/CGS annual conference will be held on the campus of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, GA on July 28-30. As usual, the conference begins on Wednesday evening with a welcome meal and concludes on Friday afternoon. The poster session will be held Thursday evening after dinner.

REGISTER HERE

As you can see, the cost for the conference is down considerably this year, thanks to moving back to an academic environment. Registration begins at $120 for members and $90 for students. I should also note that if you're a non-member, you can become a BSG member for just $20 ($10 for students). The cost of membership + member registration is less than the cost of nonmember registration.

As usual, those who are coming for the CGS meeting should either join the BSG or register as nonmembers and get a refund from BSG for the member/nonmember registration difference.

Last year's conference was great, and I'm looking forward to the 2010 conference as well. I have submitted a…

Summer reading

A former student asked for recommendations for summer reading. Here's what I told her (with bookseller links, mostly to Amazon):

If you want to be a well-read creationist, I think you should look at historical books rather than just books from today. And don't put too much stock in reading books from "both sides," since most such books tend to get bogged down in irrelevant minutiae and the authors are too often in love with the sound of their own voices. Here are a few good books that come to mind:

1. The Creationists, by Ron Numbers - This will give you an inside look at the emergence of the modern creationist movement but from a pretty anti-Seventh-day Adventist bias. I suggest that you remedy this bias by reading my own paper "Species variability and creationism," which you can read here:
http://www.grisda.org/origins/62006.pdf

2. The Creation-Evolution Struggle, by Michael Ruse - A book that looks far more deeply at the roots of the creation-evolution…

Refutation, sediba, and CORE research

Feedback on my sediba paper continues. One reader asks, "Is your model designed to refute common ancestry?"

No, not at all. In fact, I don't really believe in refutation, especially with complex, high-level theories like common ancestry. The best we can hope for is replacement, by explaining all the data that common ancestry does and then some. I don't think efforts at naive falsification of evolution or common ancestry will work. Let's face it, we've had antievolutionists "refuting" evolution for 150 years. You would think that somewhere along the line, someone would have come up with the slam dunk that would have ended the debate. But here we all are, still arguing with the same arguments.

That's the program of baraminology (and CORE): Putting together an alternative model that makes sense of the data from a radically different perspective. My objective in my sediba paper, as in all my other creationist papers, is to understand. If I c…

Lamarck, American cichlids, and Vibrio chromosomes

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There are three interesting papers in BMC journals this week. In BMC Medical Genetics, Handel and Ramagopalan what I would consider another retread of connecting "Lamarckian evolution" to epigenetics. The idea is pretty simple. Among Lamarck's ideas is the claim that certain characteristics acquired by parents can be passed on to their offspring. This was not unique to Lamarck, and some have argued that it is unfair to equate Lamarckism with inheritance of acquired characteristics. Nevertheless, the discovery that there are mechanisms of inheritance that can modify genetic inheritance (i.e., epigenetics) has revived interest in this version of "Lamarckism." It's become kind of fashionable to discuss Lamarck in the context of epigenetics; even Wikipedia makes the connection. Is the connection fair? Eh. There was so much more to Lamarck than this. I take it with a grain of salt:

Handel and Ramagopalan. 2010. Is Lamarckian evolution relevant to medici…

Am I a racist?

Feedback on human speciation continues:
...claiming speciation occurs in humans is likely to have racist implications and/or "image bearer" implications to many people. So, one of the issues is "who is your audience"? If you merely called them a variety (or the more contemporary 'people group') of human, you would probably have made your point without unnecessary alienation (assuming the creation community is an important part of your audience).I find it troubling that creationists of all people would find human speciation racist. More on that below. First, let's review what I actually think. Based on my baraminological analysis and the genetic evidence from Neandertals and the Denisova individual, I think that there were at one time multiple human species, all descendants of Adam and Eve. I see no evidence of multiple species in modern Homo sapiens. I'm talking about humans that are long since dead (or absorbed into other populations).

But eve…

Multiple human species?

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A reader writes:
...stating that there are separate species of humans has implications that I doubt you intend to convey. For example, since I deal with living mammals, I would naturally assume that means that there were significant (biological, not geographical) reproductive barriers between the two groups.And that would be wrong. Common, but wrong. The biological species concept does not require "significant (biological, not geographical) reproductive barriers." In Mayr's Systematics and the Origin of Species, we read
Species are groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations, which are reproductively isolated from other such groups.What causes reproductive isolation? All sorts of mechanisms: giving the wrong mating call or doing the wrong mating dance, for example. Two populations might breed at different times or in different places. Individuals from two populations might actually interbreed but never produce offspring, or maybe the offs…

Testing Woese's hypothesis

John Wilkins took exception to my characterization of Theobald's paper as a test of creationist claims. He wrote,
It might be thought that the target here is creationism, and so it is taken by at least one “baraminologist” (a made-up term for creationist “taxonomy”), but actually it is a test of competing hypotheses in actual science, such as the claim made a lot lately, for example by Carl Woese and Mark Ragan among others, that the treelike structure of evolution is broken by lateral genetic transfer.As I see it, though, Theobald hasn't tested Woese's hypothesis either. As I understand Woese's genetic annealing hypothesis, early cellular evolution was characterized by prominent horizontal transfer as much as by vertical transmission of genes. As time went on, vertical transmission came to dominate over horizontal, and what we recognize as phylogenetic lineages emerged. As a result, the very concept of "ancestor" as defined in a world of largely verti…

Testing universal common ancestry?

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Theobald has an interesting paper in this week's Nature, "A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry." In it, he claims to have tested the idea that all organisms - bacteria, archaea, plants, animals, fungi, etc. - descended from a common ancestor. According to Theobald,
Among a wide range of biological models involving the independent ancestry of major taxonomic groups, the model selection tests are found to overwhelmingly support UCA irrespective of the presence of horizontal gene transfer and symbiotic fusion events. These results provide powerful statistical evidence corroborating the monophyly of all known life.Although Theobald does not cite creationists in the article, I think it's pretty clear who his primary target is.

There is much to be admired about the article. The fact that he admits that universal common ancestry has not been formally tested is a step in the right direction. He correctly lists most of the qualitative evidence in favor o…

PNAS publishes theology paper

Well, this is different. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published an openly theological paper. Don't believe me? Check it out:
Footprints of nonsentient design inside the human genome
John C. Avise

Intelligent design (ID) - the latest incarnation of religious creationism - posits that complex biological features did not accrue gradually via natural evolutionary forces but, instead, were crafted ex nihilo by a cognitive agent. Yet, many complex biological traits are gratuitously complicated, function poorly, and debilitate their bearers. Furthermore, such dysfunctional traits abound not only in the phenotypes but inside the genomes of eukaryotic species. Here, I highlight several outlandish features of the human genome that defy notions of ID by a caring cognitive agent. These range from de novo mutational glitches that collectively kill or maim countless individuals (including embryos and fetuses) to pervasive architectural flaws (including pseudogenes, pa…

Natural evil in bizarro world

As you know, Reasons to Believe has a lot in common with your run-of-the-mill young-age creationists, except for the "young-age" part. They criticize evolution, have an affinity for design arguments (especially fine-tuned universe arguments), and they like to discuss theology and biblical studies openly. By accepting the conventional age of the cosmos and earth, they pretty much dispense with Flood geology and young-age cosmogonies. They also have to accept animal death before human sin, which they would argue is permissible biblically.

The latest issue of their "ezine" New Reasons to Believe [PDF] contains an article by Fuz Rana called "Did God Create Flesh-Eating Bacteria? A Creation Model for the Origin of Human Disease." That definitely caught my eye, since I've been talking about this subject for years. The big question in my mind was how RTB would handle natural evil in a world where animal death preceded human sin?

Reading the article was a…

New ID journal BIO-Complexity

As most of you already know, there's a new journal in town with an editorial board made up largely of creationists and ID supporters:
BIO-Complexity is a peer-reviewed scientific journal with a unique goal. It aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life. ... To achieve its aim, BIO-Complexity is founded on the principle of critical exchange that makes science work. Specifically, the journal enlists editors and reviewers with scientific expertise in relevant fields who hold a wide range of views on the merit of ID, but who agree on the importance of science for resolving controversies of this kind.So says the BIO-Complexitywebsite. (The last time ID supporters tried their own journal was PCID, which seemed to whither and die five years ago.) I'm kind of surprised the announcement didn't generate more snide comments. After all, the launch of Answers Research Journal inexpli…

Neandertal genome

Does it seem like a lot of anthropology stuff has been making the news lately? Ardipithecus, sediba, the Denisova hominin, and now the Neandertal genome. It's kind of exciting.

Green et al.'s paper in the latest science describes their efforts to sequence the Neandertal nuclear genome (note that Neandertal mitochondrial genomes have been sequenced multiple times). They generated a 1.3x rough draft from three bone samples from Vindija, with an estimated less than 1% contamination from modern human sequences. Interesting findings:

1. Looking at nonsynonymous substitutions, they suggested that skin morphology or physiology might have been different in Neandertals.
2. They found evidence of 111 Neandertal-specific segmental duplications, totaling 1.9 Mb.
3. Found 212 regions with evidence of positive selection sweeps. The top twenty include a gene associated with type II diabetes and three genes associated with cognitive function.
4. The big result is that Neandertal nuclear g…