Showing posts from June, 2011

Garner says "No Plesiosaurs in Loch Ness"

Sorry, folks, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Paul Garner's latest post is aimed at the good, old Loch Ness Monster stories. He concludes:
Much as it grieves the ten-year-old in me to say it, and much as I’d love to believe otherwise, the evidence is conclusive: there are no plesiosaurs in Loch Ness.Check out the full post at his blog.

Considering the strange and stubborn creationist obsession with cryptozoology, I doubt this dose of reality will dampen very many folks' enthusiasm, but we do what we can.

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

Was Evolution 2011 a waste of time?

A reader wrote in recently:
Thank you so much for the blog from your time at the conference. ... Don't you leave all this and think that "Wow, are they wasting their time and efforts!" I know I would think that if I attended a YEC conference.Wow, not at all! A lot of what is presented at Evolution conferences is pretty uncontroversial. To put it most simply, it's "change within a created kind." I'm very interested in that material, and it doesn't bother me a bit. Not all of the presentations are so creationist-friendly, of course, and those I have to think more critically about. Sifting out the useful information from what I consider to be incorrect is not that difficult or distracting. But it's still important to study this material, since this is the data that a good creationist model will eventually have to explain.

And frankly, I really like science and scientists. I even liked Jerry Coyne's talk. He's fun to listen to, and h…

CBS biology presentation roster for Origins 2011

A while back, I posted the roster for the geology portion of the Origin 2011 conference, edited by the fine folks at the Creation Geology Society. Here's the final roster for the biology portion:

"An ANOPA Study of Coelurosaurian Theropods," Cavanaugh
"The Hebrew Taxonomy of Living Things," Daniels
"A Just Holy War ... with Animals? Genesis 9, Deuteronomy 20, and a Conservation Ethic for a Creation under a Curse," Demme
"Balancing Imago Dei with Dominion: A Biblical Understanding of Conservation Ethics," Elaine
"Does Biblical Similarity Inform Biological Similarity?" Francis & Chou
"A Biblical View of Australopithecines and Paleoanthropological Data," Klenck
"Biological Origins in Christian Textbooks: Problems and Suggestions for Improvement," Lantzer & Layne
"Survey of Microbial Composition and Mechanisms of Living Stromatolites of the Bahamas and Australia," Purdom & Snelling

What Jeff didn't tell you

Jeff Tomkins has a new paper out in ARJ this week, "How Genomes are Sequenced and Why it Matters: Implications for Studies in Comparative Genomics of Humans and Chimpanzees." Jeff and I go way back, and I think it's fair to say that he helped me tremendously in learning as much as I know about genomics. So I write this post with the utmost respect - respectful disagreement, but definitely respect. His paper is a really decent summary of recent genome sequencing techniques, and it raises some interesting points about how the chimp genome sequences were obtained. He concludes:
A majority of the public and scientific community are not aware of these caveats [how the chimp genome sequence has been generated] and still told hold to the dogma that the human genome is 98 to 99% similar to chimpanzee, which is most likely not the case. The fact is that major differences between the structure of the human and a chimpanzee genomes are now being documented as the genomic resourc…

Evolution 2011: Tuesday

So my trip comes to an end once again. I had a good day and learned a lot, but nothing really grabbed me. The one talk I really wanted to hear was cancelled.

It's always kind of fascinating being the creationist at the big evolution conference. I used to be kind of nervous, but now it's no big deal. I'm sure I could get into some really heated arguments if I wanted, but I don't come to these conferences to make trouble. I come to learn.

I know some of you find that hard to believe, but it's true. I like science, and to a certain extent I like evolutionary biology. I don't agree with everything I hear (obviously), but evolutionary biology has a lot to offer to a creationist who's actually willing to listen. It's a shame there aren't more of us like that. The Geological Society of America conference has quite a creationist presence every year, but I'm still a lone ranger at Evolution meetings (as far as I know).

So what did I learn this t…

Evolution 2011: Monday

Today's sessions had quite a number of talks that interested me. Bruce Deagle enlightened me about the stickleback species in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Sticklebacks are fish that are a pretty common model organism in evolutionary studies. He's using SNP genotyping to learn about parallel evolution in lake and stream forms, which he explains nicely on his website.

Next, Todd Castoe updated us on the progress of the python genome project. That's a really interesting system to work with, since python metabolism can change so dramatically (including drastic organ growth) just after feeding. Updates can be found at

In the afternoon, I was fascinated by Julie Urban's presentation on the endosymbionts of planthoppers. The subject of her talk was the co-evolution of symbiont and host, but I was more taken with the system itself. She's looking primarily at planthopper species with more than one species of endosymbiont, and they're really…

Evolution 2011: Sunday

To be honest, today was a bit slow for me. I guess I went to the wrong sessions. Two talks stuck out for me, though.

Jeff Johnson discussed his research on Gloger's rule in Greenland gyrfalcons. Gloger's rule states that individuals in a species tend to be more heavily pigmented in lower latitudes. Sure enough, gyrfalcons from northern Greenland are white while populations in central and southern Greenland have more grey individuals. He's only just started to work on studying why this is, but it seems to have something to do with the limited breeding season in the north. Yeah, weird, but fascinating.

The other talk that got my attention was in the session on Sex and Reproduction, given by Tara Marriage on genetic load in asexual reproduction (I'm not kidding). What made this interesting was how counterintuitive it was. Her simulations showed that genetic load (roughly the number of bad mutations a population carries) is reduced in a mixed sexual/asexual populat…

Evolution 2011: Saturday

I had a great kick off day for Evolution 2011. I started out in two sessions on plant diversification. Two talks in particular stood out. In the first session, Alex Papadopulos talked about sympatric speciation on Lord Howe Island. Lord Howe is a lone island in the pacific 600 km east of Australia. He's found endemic sister species of flowering plants that must have speciated on the island itself. Granted, he estimates the frequency of Lord Howe species that originated by sympatric speciation to be only 4.5-8%, but still, I'm fascinated to see any example of sympatric speciation. I should add for those in the know that the examples he discussed were not simply polyploids (the most frequent and presumably simplest form of sympatric speciation). For those not in the know, sympatric speciation happens when two populations that share a population range diverge into two species. The question is how this can happen, when presumably the two populations could interbreed and t…

Evolution 2011: It's HOT

I have arrived in Oklahoma, and it's 97 degrees here. I dawdled too long on my hotel reservation, and the conference center was booked when I tried to make my reservation. So I've got a one mile walk to get to the conference center. That'll be fun.

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

Creationism in Earth

While I'm off to Evolution 2011 today, I wanted to point out that Paul Garner's blog directs us to an article about creationist involvement with GSA in the latest Earth magazine:
The article is written by Steven Newton of the anti-creationist organisation, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), so it’s a bit "sniffy" about it all. Still, Newton begrudgingly admits that the posters and talks "appeared to follow standard geologic practices in preparing samples and collecting data" and that the field trip leaders offered "real observations on real outcrops".Paul's right about the tone; it's a really weird, conspiratorial way of writing. But I'm glad to see the attention. Check it out:

Creationism creeps into mainstream geology

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

Sediba paper and Evolution2011

Longsuffering readers will be interested to know that I'm putting the finishing touches on my response to the critics of my hominid baraminology paper. Last year, I discussed several responses:
Reckless and farcical
Lubenow on sediba
Sediba, the bad, and the ugly

As I noted previously, I was given the opportunity to respond to Menton, Habermehl, and DeWitt by the editor of Answers Research Journal, but I declined. In retrospect, I'm glad I did. My intention was to allow the dust to settle, so to speak. I wanted to give the print journals (CRSQ and JC) the opportunity to put out rebuttals, and I wanted to take the time to think the issues over more carefully. Some people were pretty critical of my unwillingness to shoot right back at my critics, but I'm glad I waited. My manuscript response has now been heavily edited and modified twice, and I'm much happier with the result. So we can look forward to its imminent publication.

Meanwhile, I'm off to Evolution2011

CGS Conference Roster for Origins 2011

I just got the full roster of talks for the CGS portion of this summer's Origins 2011 conference. I'm really excited to see a great list of talks, especially from a lot of new names. We should have the CBS abstracts finished soon. Registration is still available at the early bird rate. Sign up here!

"Seismic and Volcanic Data Supporting a Global Catastrophic Event with Implications for Catastrophic Plate Tectonics," Cavanaugh

"Overthrust Faulting: A Mechanical Paradox Explainable Only in a Flood Context," Clarey, Strom, and Cheung

"Pseudotachylyte and Superfaults: Evidence of Catastrophic Earth Movements," Clarey and Austin

"Compaction of Sand in the Coconino Sandstone," Emery and Maithel

"Role of Aerosols in a Post-Flood Ice Age," Gollmer and Shirey

"Baraminological Analysis of the Caseidae (Synapsida: Pelycosauria)," McLain

"The Geomorphology of the Uinta Mountains and Its Implications," Oard



There was a very short letter in last week's Science that made me smile. Charles Bennet of Johns Hopkins took issue with a Science headline that proclaimed "Gravity Probe B satellite proves Einstein right." What's the problem? Wrote Bennet,
I find myself frequently repeating to students and the public that science doesn't “prove” theories. Scientific measurements can only disprove theories or be consistent with them.Indeed. Science editor Colin Norman responded with a two line mea culpa, "... we blew it." I also reprove my students for using the word "prove" in the context of science. I remember one semester when the students kept using it in their homework even after I TWICE explained to them why it's not appropriate. So I explained the problem again and threatened to flunk the next assignment that used the word. That finally broke the habit.

Of course these interesting and valid philosophical points don't stop the editors at S…

Roger Sanders radio interview

Just wanted to let you know that CORE's Roger Sanders was recently interviewed by Bob Enyart for his program "Real Science Friday." You can listen online here:

Roger Sanders interview

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

Origins 2011 hotels filling up

If you are planning to come to Origins 2011 and you need a hotel, you should make your reservation as soon as possible. We (at CORE) just made our reservations this week, and the hotels in Rapid City are already filling up for that weekend (not surprising).

Meanwhile, abstract editing is coming along, and we will certainly have a bigger conference than we had last year.

You can register for the conference at the Origins 2011 website.

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

Nutcracker Man was a grazer?

This week's PNAS has a paper by Cerling et al. on the putative diet of Paranthropus boisei, previously known as Australopithecus boisei, previously known as Zinjanthropus the "Nutcracker Man." The name came from the skull's robust maxilla, which was suggested to be used for, well, cracking nuts. Cerling et al.'s stable isotope analysis shows that boisei instead fed on C4 plants (grasses and sedges). From the abstract:
Its diet included more C4 biomass than any other hominin studied to date, including its congener Paranthropus robustus from South Africa. These results, coupled with recent evidence from dental microwear, may indicate that the remarkable craniodental morphology of this taxon represents an adaptation for processing large quantities of low-quality vegetation rather than hard objects.Cerling et al. 2011. Diet of Paranthropus boisei in the early Pleistocene of East Africa. PNAS 108:9337-9341.

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

Adam and BioLogos

The BioLogos Foundation, which exists purely to promote belief in evolution among evangelicals, seems to be happy with the attention they're receiving courtesy of the latest Christianity Today feature article, titled The Search for the Historical Adam. When I first read the article last week, I was a bit disappointed at how mostly one-sided it was, as it focused largely on the call of the minority to abandon the historical Adam. Or shall I say, the insistence of the minority that a historical Adam is of no theological importance.

Then today, I checked the CT site again, and I found their fascinating editorial No Adam, No Eve, No Gospel, wherein the editors affirm the theological necessity of a real Adam and a real Fall into sin. From the editorial:
What is at stake?
First, the entire story of what is wrong with the world hinges on the disobedient exercise of the will by the first humans. The problem with the human race is not its dearth of insight but its misshapen will.

Greg Hall at Origins 2011

Big news: Greg Hall, president of Warner University, has confirmed that he will be delivering a plenary session at Origins 2011 (the joint CBS/CGS conference). Dr. Hall is the co-author of Ken Ham's new book Already Compromised, which in my opinion is yet another fascinating survey of contemporary Christians' beliefs about origins. In Already Gone, the subject was young Christians who had fallen away from the church. In this new book, Ham and Hall focus on the leaders of Christian colleges. Some of their findings are exactly what I expected, but other results are really eye-opening.

Origins 2011 will be held at South Canyon Baptist Church in Rapid City, SD on July 28-30. The full conference includes a geological field trip, a technical conference (with at least 20 different talks and posters), and the concluding public conference.

Registration information can be found at the Creation Biology Society website.
Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.