Friday, April 12, 2013

Yet more sediba studies

Lee Berger and collaborators have been busy analyzing their discovery of Australopithecus sediba, which was initially announced with a set of papers in Science in 2010.  Eighteen months later, Berger and colleagues published another set of papers with a more in-depth analysis of the fossils, and now eighteen months later, they're back for more.  The new papers evaluate the phylogeny of sediba, along with the jaw, legs and arms, backbone, and chest.  The new phylogenetic study evaluates a huge set of data, which is extremely exciting.  To my knowledge, this level of detail has not been applied to hominids previously.  The results suggest that sediba is actually a sister taxon to Australopithecus africanus and that Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis are collectively the sister taxa to Homo erectus.  I think many creationists will like the former bit (since they want sediba to not be human), but they should find the habilis placement objectionable (since many want erectus to be human but habilis not to be human).  Confused yet?

Longtime readers will recall my sediba saga, which began with a hominid baraminology study that got expanded at the last minute to include the new (at the time) sediba fossil.  My diagnosis at the time was that sediba was actually human, and that elicited a lot of strong responses questioning my competence and theological integrity.  In turn, I responded to my critics with a paper in the inaugural Journal of Creation Theology and Science.  When Berger and crew published their next set of papers, I tried to integrate some of their data into a new analysis of sediba (because believe it or not I am skeptical of my own results), and that analysis will be published in full at this year's International Conference on Creationism (see my abstract).  In case you're wondering, the ICC publication process takes about 18 months, which is why my paper for this year has already been rendered out of date by these new papers.  I will ask the CBS editor if I can have a special dispensation to address these new papers at the CBS conference which will take place just prior to the ICC.

I'm going to take a closer look at these new papers over the weekend, and I might have a few more comments on Monday.  Lest my interest and intentions be mistaken, I will quote myself, since what I wrote the last time new sediba papers appeared is still quite relevant:
Whether or not sediba was human is a matter of some debate among creationists right now, but it is also a matter of fact not interpretation. Whether or not sediba was human depends not at all on my understanding of Scripture or my worldview. Perhaps even more importantly, it's not really all that important either. I suppose if we cannot resolve the question, that would be quite important, but if it's human it's human, and if it's not it's not. I'm far more concerned with HOW creationists conduct this debate and analyze data. Will we settle for emotional kneejerks and childish apologetics platitudes, or will we demand a deeper understanding of the meaning of these australopith fossils?
Personally, I'm striving for that deeper understanding.

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