Friday, July 8, 2011

Sediba, Senter, and a new journal

Back in February, I announced that we'd rebranded the BSG as the Creation Biology Society, since that makes more sense than an acronym that doesn't stand for anything. By dropping BSG, we also needed to change the name of our journal Occasional Papers of the BSG. We decided to use this name change as an opportunity to update the software to Open Journal Systems, and while we were making those changes, we invited the Creation Geology Society to join us in publishing this new online journal. We settled on Journal of Creation Theology and Science for the new name, with the CBS publishing JCTS Series B: Life Sciences and the CGS publishing JCTS Series C: Earth Sciences. Where's JCTS Series A? We're earnestly hoping and praying that within the next year or two, we'll be able to launch a new journal devoted to theological and biblical studies, and we've reserved Series A for that purpose.

The debut issue of JCTSB is now available (hosted by CORE at Bryan College), with the following items:

Welcome to the Inaugural Issue of JCTSB, Sanders (editorial)
Terrestrial Mammal Families and Creationist Perspectives on Speciation, Wood
Baraminology, the Image of God, and Australopithecus sediba, Wood
Book Review: The Biotic Habit, Hennigan

(I should add that JCTSC will be publishing their debut content shortly.)

The editorial by Roger Sanders explains the journal change, and the book review by Tom Hennigan is the first of the new "Media Review" section that we hope to have more of in JCTSB.

My mammal families article is a more detailed summary of work I published in abstract form at last year's CBS conference in Georgia. For those familiar with the power law size distribution of genera, this paper will be not surprising, but I've tried to make the work relevant to creationist concerns about speciation. The results are interesting, to say the least.

The sediba article is my formal response to Menton, Habermehl, and DeWitt and others. I'll probably have more to say in the future (since I'm certain this won't be the last word), but for now here's a quick summary. First of all, some of the objections leveled at my work are false. My work presents no theological problem whatsoever. None. If my critics think otherwise, they need to spell out precisely what those problems are, which they have not done. Accusations of biased data are more interesting, but the methods I used are designed to deal with the sorts of bias my critics are worried about. As I explain in the paper, I think the bias is detectable and negligible.

Regarding statistical baraminology, DeWitt raises some interesting points, but I don't think any of them are worth losing sleep over. As I understand it, DeWitt's (and others') principle objection is that some characters are more important than others for understanding what is and isn't human. That's an interesting point, and he's probably right, but what the critics haven't done is provide a detailed justification for why their favorite characteristics should define humanity. Here's the real problem: Just about any characteristic you can mention, I can show you a true human that lacks it. More importantly, if we accept at least Neandertals and erectines as human (as many creationists, including Lubenow, do), then modern Homo sapiens becomes an atypical example of humanity, at least as far as the skull goes. As anyone learns in Statistics 101, you shouldn't use the outliers to represent the group average. Just because all the humans I know have a characteristic doesn't make that characteristic universal to all humans. I would hope that would be obvious.

Of course, this is not to say that statistical baraminology is some kind of reckless "'be all and end all' human-australopith 'truth detector'." There are significant drawbacks to statistical baraminology and open questions that still need more research. I discuss some of these problems and the proposed solutions in the final part of the paper, as I did in the original paper. To be absolutely clear on this point: I am not saying that I'm infallibly correct about the human holobaramin. I am saying that there are good objections and not so good objections. And then there are objections that are little more than insults and emotional rants. I would hope that our discourse would strive for the good (and even not so good) objections rather than the other kind.

Moving on to other related topics, yesterday I mentioned that this new paper would have something to say to John Harshman's comments from Panda's Thumb:
...the biggest problem with baraminology (aside from the creationist assumption) is that they make not even an attempt to justify their methods, empirically or theoretically. Why do discontinuities distinguish baramins? We don’t know. Why discontinuities of a particular size, when even baraminology would imply discontinuities within baramins? We don’t know.
The sediba paper attempts to elaborate on that point, perhaps not sufficiently, but it's a start. I introduce the notion of the "discontinuity hypothesis" as something to be tested. This is something I've been thinking quite a lot about since 2008, when I was preparing my paper for the Genesis Kinds conference. I'd say that my paper "Natura Facit Saltum: The Case for Discontinuity" (published in the Genesis Kinds book) was the first time I explicitly posed the idea of testing discontinuity:
...the very real difference between the universal common ancestry of evolution and the origin of separate groups described in Genesis 1 might suggest that discontinuity could be more prevalent under the creationist perspective than the evolutionary. This would be especially true if somehow creationists could demonstrate the consistent presence of discontinuity around Marsh’s Genesis kinds ... George McCready Price (1938) and others (e.g., Woodmorappe 1996, p. 6; Jones 2002; Wood 2006) have suggested that the taxonomic rank of family could be roughly equivalent to the Genesis kind. Given an evolutionary model ..., there would seem to be no reason to expect discontinuity at any particular taxonomic level. Instead, we might expect to find continuity or discontinuity at any taxonomic level. Consequently, discontinuity could be detected with equal frequency around families as within families. Thus, a distinguishing test between evolutionary claims and those of creationists might be consistent discontinuity roughly around families, and the absence of discontinuity within families. (p. 116)
This is becoming my favorite way to think about statistical baraminology now, and it very much frames my response to Senter's dinosaur paper. More about that later, though. This post is already way too long.

So check out the new journal at www.bryancore.org/jcts, and let me know what you think.

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