Oct 13, 2009

FB Convo w/a Prominent Atheistic Skeptic on Ardi & Neandertal DNA

The following is a back-and-forth I recently had with a nationally known atheistic skeptic from the Phoenix area named Jim Lippard. The discourse began about Ardi but quickly moved onto Neandertal DNA. I think the discourse shows how both sides can be civil towards each other and yet still present what they see as evidence for the their position. I even let him have the last word!


Vocab Malone You guys heard about Ardi yet? Any thoughts? http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/10/03/news-to-note-10032009
October 4 at 7:43pm ·

Jim Lippard
Creationists still haven't dealt with Neandertal--they claimed it was 100% human, but now we have DNA evidence to the contrary:


Here's a summary by one of the world's best science writers: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/10/01/ardipithecus-we-meet-at-last/
October 5 at 8:57am ·

Vocab Malone
Jim -
Always good to see you around these here parts!

As far as Ardi goes, what do you think of this: http://www.kent.edu/news/newsdetail.cfm?customel_dataPageID_9299=27947

On the Neandertal DNA, I think this will suffice: http://www.creationresearch.org/crsq/articles/45/45_4/CRSQ%20Spring%2009%20Neandertal%20DNA.pdf

October 5 at 7:08pm ·

Jim Lippard
Hard to say, since the article doesn't give his arguments, but Lovejoy's a respectable guy.

My understanding is that the published work on Neandertal DNA accounted for issues of DNA decay. They clearly shared a common ancestor with humans (e.g., they have the FOXP gene associated with language just as we do), but they're still well beyond the range of human variability.
October 5 at 8:17pm ·

Vocab Malone
Here is an excerpt from an article entitled "Neanderthals are Still Human" by Dave Phillips:

"Lubenow (1998) has pointed out that the use of a statistical average of a large modern human sample (994 sequences from 1669 modern humans) compared with the mt DNA sequence from one Neanderthal is not appropriate. Furthermore, the mt DNA sequence differences among modern humans range from 1 to 24 substitutions, with an average of eight substitutions, whereas, the mt DNA sequence differences between modern man and the Neanderthal specimen range from 22 to 36 substitutions, placing Neanderthals, at worst, on the fringes of the modern range."

[Phillips earned the M.S. in physical anthropology from California State University, Northridge, in 1991 and is now working on his Ph.D. in paleontology.]

Here is an excerpt from an article on this by Jeffrey Tomkins:

"The Neandertals essentially represented a unique ethnic group that is now gone due to the same factors that affect modern human populations—factors such as migration, mutation, and interbreeding. Neandertals represent a variant genome from within the created human kind. We predict that future analysis of Neandertal DNA sequence data will add confirmation to creation, but consternation to other origins models."

["First Draft of the Neandertal Genome Sequence Released by Jeffrey Tomkins, Ph.D.]

And here is a podcast on this topic:
(yes, the info is by ICR)
October 5 at 9:09pm ·

Jim Lippard
Lubenow's 1998 work was definitely not talking about the completed Neandertal DNA sequencing published in 2008 that I cited above. I don't think there's anyone at the ICR or AIG worth taking seriously.

Lubenow's _Bones of Contention_ (1992) is probably the best creationist work on fossil hominids, though it suffers from a gigantic error that reverses the major conclusion of the book--it assumes that ancestors and descendants can't coexist: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/a_lubenow.html

Another big problem with Lubenow for creationists is that he and Gish disagree how to classify fossil hominids. It's hard to make the case that all fossil hominids are clearly ape or clearly human when creationists classify the one and the same fossil in both categories because they disagree about which is which: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/lubenow_cg.html
October 5 at 10:19pm ·

Vocab Malone
For what it's worth, Gish is a biochemist; Lubenow at least has an M.S. in Anthropology. Plus, Gish's work on this dates from 1985 but Lubenow's is a little bit more up-to-date.

Jim, if you believe that two "authorities" disagreeing at this level on things of this nature discounts their whole interpretative framework, I wonder what you make of the Leakey(s) vs. Johanson beef? It seems their differences are much larger than that of Gish & Lubenow!

On the Neandertal DNA, read this from John Morris:

"The DNA was recovered from the bone of the first Neanderthal discovered, an individual so riddled with rickets and old age that his legs had bowed. The DNA was mitochondrial DNA, not from the cell nucleus, and only 379 base pairs out of 16,500 (thus about 2%) of the total. It was found to differ from standard human mtDNA in 27 locations. Since modern human mtDNA differs on average in only eight locations within this stretch of 379, it was concluded that Neanderthals were probably not closely related to humans."

"However, modern human mtDNA varies beyond the average, with the extremes statistically overlapping the Neanderthal measurement. Since all modern humans are interfertile, this measurement does not necessarily place them outside the family."

"The technique is new and radical, and hopefully this measurement will be followed by others, which will give more insight and confidence. It would also be helpful to investigate Cro-Magnon bones of the same suspected date. This is breakthrough technology and both creationists and evolutionists would like to learn more."

TAKEN FROM the article "Is Neanderthal In Our Family Tree?"
October 6 at 6:49pm ·

Jim Lippard
John Morris has a Ph.D. in geological engineering, but hasn't actually worked in the field. Gish hasn't done any work in biochemistry since the 1950s, and his last major book (which I reviewed in _Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith_) cited virtually nothing from within the last two decades.
October 6 at 8:08pm ·

Vocab Malone
Jim, I am a bit perplexed because you didn't actually respond to anything in my last post.

Also, I would like to point out that I never brought up Gish as an authority in these matters; you introduced him into the dialogue. Once you did bring Gish in as an example of a point of conflict between creation scientists, I was actually agreeing more with Lubenow over Gish! If that was not evident, then I apologize for my miscommunication.

Nonetheless, it seems that the citation I gave from Morris still stands and is a good summary of the basic issue. If I had to distill it down to one salient point, it would be this:

"...modern human mtDNA varies beyond the average, with the extremes statistically overlapping the Neanderthal measurement..."

Is this not true? If it is, then aren't some of the conclusions about Neandertal DNA a bit over-hyped, to say the least? It would seem so.
October 6 at 8:24pm ·

Jim Lippard
The 2008 paper shows that Neandertal DNA is well beyond modern human variation.

And yes, I do think that the fact that creationists want to lump everything into discrete categories but can't agree upon which categories things fall into is evidence that those things aren't really in discrete categories, just as every mainstream scientist says. Gish and Lubenow are far from the only examples--the same thing happens with Archaeopteryx, where some creationists say it's a reptile fossil with hoaxed feathers, and others say it's 100% bird--the fact is that it has both a lot of reptilian features and a lot of bird features.
October 6 at 8:28pm ·

Vocab Malone

I am sure you are well aware of similar phenomenon among evolutionists, such as the "splitters" versus "lumpers" divide. During my Anthro101 class, the proff. (who works w/Johanson @ ASU) spent almost a whole class period on the divides among evolutionary anthropologists.

On a side note, are there not some EXTREME proponents of punctuated equilibrium who don't even really "believe" in transitional forms in the classic Darwinian sense? If you apply a consistent standard based upon your arguments put forth here, this should bother you, no?

Be that as it may, here is one more helpful excerpt from the Tomkins article ("First Draft of the Neandertal Genome Sequence Released"):

"Consistent with this idea (that Neandertals and modern humans are not really separate 'species' but represent different human gene pools in time and location), the genomes are proving to be quite similar."

"In fact, preliminary findings over the past couple of years support this interpretation, as a variety of genes have been characterized in the Neandertal genome with high similarity to modern human genes. These genes are associated with such traits as pale skin and red hair, type O blood, and high levels of linguistic and mental ability."

"Since evolutionary scientists considered these gene variants to be strictly associated with modern humans, it comes as no surprise that the evidence will once again force 're-explanations.'"

October 6 at 9:19pm ·

Jim Lippard
I'm well aware of splitters vs. lumpers, but nobody but creationists insist on all ape vs. all human, with nothing in between, because it's not a plausible position given the evidence at hand.

I'm not aware of any punc. eq. advocates who say there are no transitional forms. Gould got very pissed off at creationists for claiming that was his ... position, which it wasn't. There are creationists who misrepresent transformed cladists as saying there are no transitional forms.

Humans and Neandertals are closely related and share a common ancestor, more recently than humans and chimpanzees, which also share a common ancestor.

Re: Gould and transitional forms, see last three paragraphs of: http://groups.google.com/group/talk.origins/msg/1e59041e36678fe2?hl=en
October 6 at 9:52pm ·


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