Showing posts from January, 2011

Human species?

Previously, I commented on the status of Neandertals as a separate species or just a subspecies of modern humans, Homo sapiens (here and here). Some of my fellow young-age creationists have insisted that anything descended from Adam and Eve must necessarily be Homo sapiens, so they want to make Neandertals just a subspecies of modern humans. If you really evaluate the issue, it's just biologically naive and biblically unnecessary to demand that human be equivalent to the species Homo sapiens. Oddly enough, Reasons to Believe seems to agree with young-age creationists on the species status of humans. They insist that only Homo sapiens are descendants of Adam and Eve, but they want you to think of Neandertals as non-human, so they try to exclude Neandertals from the human species. They're even willing to misrepresent published claims to do so.

For those keeping score, here's how it all stacks up:
1. I think Neandertals (and certainly Denisovans) are separate species fr…

ARJ begins fourth year with a (big) bang!

Readers will recall my dissatisfaction with two papers published last year in the area of astronomy. Of Lisle's "Anisotropic synchrony convention," I had this to say:
And so ends my assessment of Lisle's solution to the speed of light problem. It just isn't science. As he seems to freely admit, anisotropic synchrony convention is all about logical possibility, but it doesn't actually help us understand or explain galaxies or pulsars or redshift or cosmic background radiation. He seems content to assume God made the universe exactly as it is for whatever inscrutable reasons He had. Talk about ad hoc.Of DeYoung's "Mature creation and seeing distant starlight" (J of C 24(3):54-59), I had this to say:
If I read that correctly, DeYoung seems to have a low view of what science can do for us and prefers to base his solution to the starlight problem on a logical possibility that is essentially impervious to testing and therefore irrefutable.Now the lates…

The orangutan genome

Nature published the orangutan genome this week from Locke et al. Interesting points:
There's a polymorphic neocentromere on chromosome 12. A polymorphism appears in some members of a species but not in others, and a centromere is a very important part of a chromosome that is required for proper cell division. A neocentromere is a novel centromere. So a polymorphic neocentromere means that some orangs have a centromere in one spot on chromosome 12 and some have their chromosome 12 centromere in another location. I think that's important because I've long argued that genomes are much more fluid and adaptable than creationists are willing to give them credit for. So even if your a species-fixist creationist (or something very close), here's an example of a species with a pretty significant polymorphism in chromosome position.One other interesting point is a lack of recent alu insertions. Alus are transposable elements found only in primate genomes, and are especial…

Responding to Senter: Baraminology in JEB again

Long-time readers will recall that Phil Senter published a paper last year in Journal of Evolutionary Biology purporting to demonstrate that dinosaurs and birds are related using the methods of baraminology. He called his paper "Using creation science to demonstrate evolution." I posted a summary of the paper here, and I got some flak for not actually responding to Senter's argument. As one reader wrote in an email, "It seems to me that Phil Senter needs a better response from creationists than 'gee, that's interesting'." Heh. He sure does need a good response, but as I wrote later,
I'd rather take my time and write something genuinely intelligent than shoot my mouth off and say something stupid. Especially on a subject as important as this.
So I wrote a response and submitted it to JEB, and on Monday of this week, they published my response in their online early section. You'll need a subscription to access the full paper at the journa…

What is a creationist? Part 1

I've been doing some reading lately and pondering the question of what makes a person a "creationist." On the one hand, Ron Numbers wrote a paper that traced the historical usage of the term and linked it in the modern world to young-age creationism. That's generally what I mean when I use the term by itself, but I've been making more of an effort lately to specify which kind of creationist I'm talking about.

In the "debate," the term creationist is used in a derogatory sense by various anticreationists trying to denigrate the Intelligent Design movement. Anticreationists would say that anyone who believes that God created, regardless of the method, is a "creationist." ID advocates hate that label, since creationism is obviously equated in the minds of many with young-age creationism, which many folks find absurd. On the other hand, since many (most?) of the ID leaders are Christians and believe that God created, can we really blame a…

Patriarchal Neandertals

While I'm busy on a cool new project, I wanted to draw attention to a really interesting paper recently published in PNAS by Lalueza-Fox et al. They applied ancient DNA sequencing techniques to a set of Neandertal remains from a single site in Spain. The fossils are apparently the remains of 12 different individuals who were buried in a cave-in. They looked at both mtDNA (which is inherited from the mother) and Y-chromosome DNA (which obviously is inherited only from father to son). Whereas the three adult males of the group had all the same mtDNA type, the three adult females did not. The authors conclude:
These findings provide evidence to indicate that Neandertal groups not only were small and characterized by low genetic diversity but also were likely to have practiced patrilocal mating behavior.It's not conclusive evidence that Neandertals had a patriarchal culture, but it's certainly consistent with that.

Lalueza-Fox et al. 2011. Genetic evidence for patrilocal ma…

Ironic blog post about blog story in Nature

The latest Nature has an interesting piece on the impact of blogging and tweeting on peer reviewed publishing:

Trial by Twitter

It makes brief reference to the arsenic DNA story (see here and here), but the main theme is how all this immediate online commentary changes or could change the way we scientists publish. Personally, despite having my own blog where I can shoot off my opinion with little forethought at all, I tend to have a conservative streak when it comes to formal discussions. In other words, I enjoy the quick give-and-take of blogging about other people's papers, but I prefer to be more deliberate and careful when responding to my own critics, especially if they have significant criticisms. Hence the fact that I still have not responded to hominid baraminology critics nor to Phil Senter's use of baraminology to demonstrate evolution. I think some net addicts might interpret my silence negatively, but that's the way it goes. I like to ruminate on ideas som…

CORE discussion group: Spring schedule

For you locals or even semi-locals, every semester CORE organizes a discussion group to talk about the latest issues in the creation/evolution debate. The group meets every other Tuesday in Mercer Hall 132 at 5 pm. Our first discussion this semester will be TODAY at 5 pm! CORE director Todd Wood (that's me) will explore the relevance of the doctrine of creation to Christians. Some say that to be a good Christian you MUST be a young-earth creationist. Others say that the Bible doesn't teach anything about the mechanism of creation and you can believe whatever you want. What does this debate mean to you? What does it mean to Bryan College? Does it matter at all? Come and find out!

The rest of the schedule is posted at the CORE website. If you're in the area and interested, we'd love to have you stop by.

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

Snow and Middle East creationism

We got a little snow this week. Seven inches. Best part? It's still there! Usually any snow we get melts the same day or maybe the next day at the latest. Not this week! It's wonderful. Makes me feel like the Tennessee winter has a purpose at last.

Though I'm still recovering from my chimp genome marathon series, I thought I'd point out a fascinating article in the latest Evolution by Elise Burton on "Evolution and creationism in Middle Eastern education: a new perspective." She shows that the equation of Islamic education with antievolutionism doesn't hold up. In truth, some Israeli schools are more antievolution than the state-run schools of Iran. Other Muslim nations are more antievolution in their approach:
The fact that "secular" Turkish education has creationist trends similar to those in the authoritarian-religious Saudi state, whereas authoritarian-religious Iran endorses evolution, further challenges recurrent assumptions about…

RTB and the chimp genome Part 8

For those readers who have suffered through this entire series, I apologize for going on so long. I initially intended to write one response to the Rana/Venema exchange (Venema's first and second critiques, and parts one, two, three, four, and five of Rana's response). After studying Rana's responses, though, I kept finding more and more things that troubled me, and this turned into the blog series THAT WOULDN'T DIE (parts one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven). Now I'm just going to be done with this, but not because I've exhaustively documented all of Rana's mistakes and misunderstandings. I'm just getting discouraged with the sheer number of errors that riddle Rana's writing, and I believe there are better ways to spend my limited time. So I'm just going to offer some parting thoughts directly to the leadership of Reasons to Believe.

First, you have not adequately responded to Venema's principle critique: Why was the descript…

RTB and the chimp genome part 7

Just when I thought it was over, Fuz Rana is continuing his series responding to Dennis Venema with a pair of posts (one posted, one promised) on Venema's discussion of pseudogenes. In my series (one, two, three, four, five, six), I've been focusing on the human/chimp genomic similarity, so I want to comment only briefly on Rana's conception of pseudogenes. I also want to put an end to this series, since there are so many better things to post and talk about.

In his latest post, Rana asserts the following about the argument for common ancestry from pseudogenes:
When evolutionary biologists present this argument, they make a number of assumptions, all of which appear to have questionable validity based on recent research results. For the pseudogene evidence to have potency: (1) pseudogenes must lack function; (2) their origin must be due to rare, random events; and (3) their juxtaposition to other genes must be arbitrary.Everything he wrote there is utterly false. None of…

RTB and the chimp genome Part 6

Just when I thought I was done writing this series, Fuz Rana posted a fourth response to Venema's critique of RTB. In previous posts in this series (one, two, three, four, and five), my responses to Rana's posts can be placed in three categories. First, I've found that Rana misrepresents or misunderstands published data or arguments (both the informal blog post of Venema and peer-reviewed, scientific papers). Second, I've tested Rana's hypothesis about the similarity of the chimp and human genomes, and I found that it failed. Third, I disputed Rana's interpretation of the data, especially his assertion that the similarity of the human and chimp genome is meaningless.

In his fourth post, Rana doesn't present any new arguments. Instead, he just reiterates his previous claims. Or so it seems. Here's where he begins, in a paragraph that is copied verbatim in parts two and three of Rana's response to Venema:
Most people are familiar with the claim …

RTB and the chimp genome Part 5

This week, I've been discussing a recent blog post by Dennis Venema critiquing RTB's published statements on the chimp genome. Previous posts (one, two, three, and four) have examined Fuz Rana's four part response posted on the RTB website (one, two, three, and four). I've already documented a series of factual errors and misquotations in Rana's posts. Yesterday, I tested Rana's hypothesis about why the human and chimpanzee genomes are not really 98-99% identical, and my results showed that Rana was wrong. Today, I want to address Rana's claim that such similarity measures are "meaningless."

The theme of Rana's third (abbreviated) post responding to Venema is that the gross genomic similarity really doesn't tell you anything about how similar or different organisms really are. According to Rana,
The crux of his [Venema's] criticism was that... We misrepresent scientific opinion when we claim that the genetic comparisons between hum…

RTB and the chimp genome Part 4

In my previous entries in this series (one, two, and three), I've examined Reasons to Believe's position on the similarity of the human and chimpanzee genomes. So far, I've mostly been interested in how Fuz Rana has represented both the published literature on human/chimp comparative genomics and a criticism of RTB's position posted on the BioLogos blog by Dennis Venema. I have found a pattern of misunderstanding and subsequent misrepresentation of published statements on the part of Rana. Today, I want to look specifically at Rana's claim that I mentioned last time:
Given that the reason for the investigation’s failure to align 0.6 to 0.8 billion base pairs in the two genomes stems from the extensive genetic differences, it is unlikely that these regions display only a 3 percent difference, as is the case for the rest of the genomes. Instead the genetic difference in these regions must be greater. When this greater genetic difference is considered, it is reasonab…

RTB and the chimp genome Part 3

In my previous posts in this series (one and two), I've examined claims made by Fuz Rana of Reasons to Believe about a blog post by Dennis Venema that raised important questions about RTB's presentation of research on the similarity of the human and chimpanzee genomes. In this post, I want to examine the details of Rana's technical justification for RTB's position on the human/chimp genome similarity, as summarized in Rana's second post responding to Venema.

According to Rana,
As discussed in Who Was Adam?, researchers have performed a number of studies that indicate a 98 to 99 percent genetic similarity between humans and chimps. But as Hugh Ross and I point out, these comparisons were based on relatively limited genetic regions and focused on a single type of genetic difference (called substitutions or single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs). Comparisons that encompass larger regions of the genomes and include other types of genetic differences (like indels) show …

RTB and the chimp genome Part 2

In my previous post, I began examining a recent blog exchange between Dennis Venema and Fuz Rana. In Venema's post, he documented that RTB's position on the chimp/human genome comparisons as published in three RTB books appeared to ignore the sequenced chimp genome published in 2005. Here are Venema's conclusions:
Taken together, these findings demonstrate the following: (a) RTB carefully followed the primary literature on human / chimpanzee comparative genomics up until and including a major paper published in 2004, even if it represented such studies selectively to their constituents; (b) RTB was aware of the key 2005 whole-genome study and correctly understood its implications at the time the first 2006 edition of Connections was drafted in late 2005; (c) RTB has made no mention of this paper (nor any paper in this field published since 2004) in two major works published after this paper was available; (d) RTB continues to claim, five years after this paper was publish…

RTB and the chimp genome Part 1

In my last post before Christmas, I indicated that I would be discussing Reasons to Believe in my next posts. Unfortunately, what started as a single response to some of Fuz Rana's recent assertions about the chimpanzee genome has turned into a long series of posts. Having written almost the entire series of posts already, I've become discouraged by the length and detail of my criticisms. I have even debated whether or not I should bother posting what I've written, since I'm sure it will be either ignored by RTB or misconstrued as personal attack or insult. Despite that, though, I do think I have a duty to the public and to the truth to set the record straight on a topic that I'm familiar with: comparative primate genomics. I wrote a paper on the subject back in 2006, just after the chimp genome was first published (here), and I've mentioned the topic numerous times on this blog:

Chimp and human Y chromosomes radically different?
Chimp genome again

This issu…