According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Human Evolution. How Does it Fit with the Recent Discovery of the genus, "Homo Naledi?"





Growing up as a conservative evangelical Christian I had been taught to consider the story of human evolution as spurious to the Word of God. Over the decades since learning this I have reconsidered all the arguments for special creation and against evolutionary creation and now deem my earlier education misdirected. That I may hold to progressive creationism (as opposed to immediate creationism) and consider it "divinely supernatural and special."

That the Creator God of the universe had supernaturally decreed its possibility using the operands of randomness and chaos to be overruled by decreeing the teleological principle of life as "always tilting towards biologic struggle and survival" regardless of the (toxic) eco-environments this struggle would occur in; as example, oxygen was a deadly toxin to evolutionary life at one time. That at all times the equation of "life" would be tilted towards the principles of creative "freedom" within a weak entropic system (ultimate chaos) and not a strong entropic system (ultimate determinism) thus allowing for an evolutionary progression whereby the Sovereign Creator may have fellowship of a kind with His creation.

Once realizing this, I have lately, in recent years, worked towards describing how this progressive evolutionary creation may exist both on a doctrinal level as well as on a scientific one without going beyond the bounds of modern science (excepting, of course, that I write of it from a theologic and not an agnostic, or a/theistic, viewpoint).

And so, in today's posting, I wish to further explore the idea of human evolution through its taxonomical graphs and charts of recent discoveries of the 2.8 million year old homo naledi (star) species. A remarkable discovery found in an ancient graveyard deep underground by a nimble anthropological team of spelunking women who made this phenomenal discovery happen.

Question 1. Why is the chimpanzee closer to the homo genus than the gorilla? And where do orangutans fit in to this zoological chart?

The homo genus has been characterised exclusively as a genus of "bipedal apes" commonly known as "humans" or "homo erectus" unlike the chimpanzee who half walks and uses all four limbs to travel. The larger family of apes from which humans have descended, such as the gorilla, or orangutan, primarily use all four limbs to travel while occassionally utilizing bi-pedal motion much less of the time than the chimpanzee genus.





Though all come from the superfamily of hominoidea - as can be seen from the taxonomical charts above - as the species continues to evolve it continues to separate into separate zoological classifications from tree dwelling apes (gibbons), to partially tree-dwelling apes (orangutans), to ground/tree dwelling apes (gorillas), to ground/tree dwelling semi-bipedal apes (bonobos, chimpanzees), to exclusively ground dwelling bipedal apes (man).

The chart then shows how the chimpanzee genus is further removed from the gorilla genus and more closely linked to the human genus. This is also supported by evolutionary genetic studies. As a result, the common chimpanzee and the bonobo (pygmy or dwarf chimp) of the genus Pan are the closest living evolutionary relatives to humans, sharing a common ancestry with humans about four to seven million years ago."

From a time-scale perspective, this elapsed period of time also evidences the divergence of humans from chimpanzees. More specifically, the final separation of the Homo genus from the Pan genus is approxiamately 2.8 million years old thus telling of the importance of the recent "Homo Naledi" cave discovery in August of 2015 in South Africa's Star Cave system.

What does this mean theologically?

In evolutionary terms it is pretty plain how human creation evolved from anthropological studies. And in theological terms, the passages in Genesis provide an ancient (Hebrew) tribal explanation to creation in non-evolutionary terms. However, many well-meaning Christians attempt to show a 1:1 correlation between Genesis 1 with "theistic evolution" which would be an interpretive error both from a cultural standpoint as well as from a scientific one. At this time ancient man had no knowledge of either science or evolution. Moreover, the implication by theologians of insinuating human guidance by divine authorship supra-intending over a culture's era-specific ignorance is also a conjectural error to textual formation.

The take away? Rather than get hung up on a literal reading of Genesis' creation stories we may be confident that creation derives from a Creator who crafted an unusually complex method by using all the ingredients of evolution to obtain the current results we are biologically familiar with. And that its testimony in Genesis is an literary account by the ancients using mythological description to describe this very same event in their own lay terms and knowledge.

Moreover, we must also come to understand that evolution is always occurring both in the present as well as in the future. That it is a process which never stops. That underneath life itself is the continuing titanic struggle of biologic life to always exist despite the (toxic) eco-environments now present or occurring in the future.

This is the marvel of God's creation and the equation that He has set in place so that at this present moment we, as homo sapiens (human beings), might have fellowship with our Creator-Redeemer. But as humans, we cannot assume that we are in exclusive communication with our Creator alone. Even the Psalmists and Prophets have written of the mountains and valleys, seas and skies, trees and all living things, as having a "form of communication" with its Creator. That it "delights" in this fellowship, "dances," "sings for joy," and "claps its hands" in response to His Almighty voice.

And though I do not encourage any form of "supernatural mystical communication" with the trees and mountains, birds and bees, still we find in the poetry and essays of human journals the deep realization that all things are connected and in communication with itself and its Creator God. As we walk creation's fields and meadows, swim its streams and dive below its waters, we sense God's almighty hand of authorship in its templed majesty and shrouded veils of glory. The godfathers of ecology, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold, each in their own way reveled in this divine communion connecting our existence even to the original American Indians who sensed the same in their Spirit stories of creational connectedness and sacred fellowship.

Conclusion

To read Genesis in an evolutionary context is to read of (i) an ancient composition set in a paleo-creational understanding of a Creator-God named by His creational activity and supernaturally sensed (or guided) by life's many spheres of divine/human interaction. (ii) That into creation's holy charters came freedom's opposite half known as evil which struggle together one with the other each redefining what (iii) communion and fellowship with the Creator God may mean. That into this (iv) struggle came humanity to be pitted against its God, His creation, and itself and then, (v) there find redescribed not "life" but "death" within the hallowed altars of this holy communion. And with death (vi) the promise of God to be not only "Creator" but "Redeemer" - not only to mankind but to His holy creation as well - and that (vii) it would come by grace and mercy. This is the fuller story of Genesis when read apart from its more popular classical/literal understanding rejecting evolution.

And to this marvel of God's complex creation we bow our heads and utter, "Thank you O blessed Redeemer for your promise of life in the midst of death. Praise you for your wisdom and goodness and grace. For the majesty of your name and the councils of your justice when all things will be made new, and good, and holy, once more. Amen."

R.E. Slater
September 13, 2015
edited September 26, 2015


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Hominini
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hominini

Not to be confused with Hominoidea, Hominidae, Homininae, or Hominina.

The Hominini is a tribe of the subfamily Homininae; it comprises three subtribes: Hominina, with its one genus Homo; Australopithecina, comprising several extinct genera (see taxobox); and Panina, with its one genus Pan, the chimpanzees (see the evolutionary tree below).[3][4] Members of the human clade, that is, the Hominini, including Homo and those species of theaustralopithecines that arose after the split from the chimpanzees, are called hominins; cf. Hominidae; terms "hominids" and hominins).

The subtribe Hominina is the "human" branch; that is, it contains the genus Homo exclusively. Researchers proposed the taxon Hominini on the basis that the least similar species of atrichotomy should be separated from the other two. The common chimpanzee and the bonobo of the genus Pan are the closest living evolutionary relatives to humans, sharing a common ancestor with humans about four to seven million years ago.[5] Research by Mary-Claire King in 1973 found 99% identical DNA between human beings and chimpanzees;[6] later research modified that finding to about 94% commonality, with some of the difference occurring in noncoding DNA.[7]

Sahelanthropus tchadensis is an extinct hominid species that lived 7 million years ago, very close to the time of the chimpanzee–human divergence. It is unclear whether or not it may be classed as hominin—that is, whether it rose after the split from the chimpanzees, or not.

A source of confusion in determining the exact age of the Pan–Homo split is evidence of a complex speciation process rather than a clean split between the two lineages. Different chromosomes appear to have split at different times, possibly over as much as a 4-million-year period, indicating a long and drawn out speciation process with large-scale hybridization events between the two emerging lineages as late as 6.3 to 5.4 million years ago according to Patterson et al. (2006).[8] The assumption of late hybridization was in particular based on the similarity of the X chromosome in humans and chimpanzees, suggesting a divergence as late as some 4 million years ago. This conclusion was rejected as unwarranted by Wakeley (2008), who suggested alternative explanations, including selection pressure on the X chromosome in the populations ancestral to the chimpanzee–human last common ancestor (CHLCA).[9]

All the extinct genera listed in the taxobox are ancestral to, or offshoots of, Homo. Few fossil specimens on the Pan side of the split have been found—the first discovery of a fossil chimpanzee was published in 2005;[10] it was from Kenya's East African Rift Valley and dated to between 545 thousand years, radiometric, (kyr) and 284 kyr (via argon–argon dating). However, both Orrorin and Sahelanthropus existed around the time of the split, and so may be ancestral to both Pan and Homo.

In the proposal of Mann and Weiss (1996),[11] the tribe Hominini includes Pan as well as Homo, but within separate subtribes. Homo and (by inference) all bipedal apes are referred to the subtribe Hominina, while Pan is assigned to the subtribe Panina. Wood (2010) discusses the different views of this taxonomy.[12]


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Lee R. Berger, a professor of human evolution studies at the University of
the Witwatersrand  in Johannesburg, unveiled a previously unidentified species
of the early human lineage — Homo naledi. By REUTERS on Publish Date



Homo Naledi, New Species in Human Lineage, Is Found in South African Cave
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/11/science/south-africa-fossils-new-species-human-ancestor-homo-naledi.html?_r=0

by John Noble Wildord
September 10, 2015

Acting on a tip from spelunkers two years ago, scientists in South Africadiscovered what the cavers had only dimly glimpsed through a crack in a limestone wall deep in the Rising Star Cave: lots and lots of old bones.

The remains covered the earthen floor beyond the narrow opening. This was, the scientists concluded, a large, dark chamber for the dead of a previously unidentified species of the early human lineage — Homo naledi.


The new hominin species was announced on Thursday by an international team of more than 60 scientists led by Lee R. Berger, an American paleoanthropologist who is a professor of human evolution studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The species name, H. naledi, refers to the cave where the bones lay undisturbed for so long; “naledi” means “star” in the local Sesotho language.

In two papers published this week in the open-access journal eLife, the researchers said that the more than 1,550 fossil elements documenting the discovery constituted the largest sample for any hominin species in a single African site, and one of the largest anywhere in the world. Further, the scientists said, that sample is probably a small fraction of the fossils yet to be recovered from the chamber. So far the team has recovered parts of at least 15 individuals.

“With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage,” Dr. Berger said.

The finding, like so many others in science, was the result of pure luck followed by considerable effort.

Two local cavers, Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker, found the narrow entrance to the chamber, measuring no more than seven and a half inches wide. They were skinny enough to squeeze through, and in the light of their headlamps they saw the bones all around them. When they showed the fossil pictures to Pedro Boshoff, a caver who is also a geologist, he alerted Dr. Berger, who organized an investigation.

"Just getting into the chamber and bringing out samples proved to be a huge challenge.

The narrow opening was the only way in." - Lee Burger

Paul Dirks, a geologist at James Cook University in Australia, who was lead author of the journal paper describing the chamber, said the investigators first had a steep climb up a stone block called the Dragon’s Back and then a drop down to the entrance passage — all of this in the total absence of natural light.

For the two extended investigations of the chamber in 2013 and 2014, Dr. Berger rounded up the international team of scientists and then recruited six excavating scientists through notices on social media. One special requirement: They had to be slender enough to crawl through that crack in the wall.

One of the six, who were all women and were called “underground astronauts,” was Marina Elliott of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. She said the collection and removal of the fossils involved “some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions ever encountered in the search for human origins.”

Photo by the New York Times

Besides introducing a new member of the prehuman family, the discovery suggests that some early hominins intentionally deposited bodies of their dead in a remote and largely inaccessible cave chamber, a behavior previously considered limited to modern humans. Some of the scientists referred to the practice as a ritualized treatment of their dead, but by “ritual” they said they meant a deliberate and repeated practice, not necessarily a kind of religious rite.

Pieces of a skeleton of Homo naledi, a newly discovered human species.
CreditJohn Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison, via European Pressphoto Agency

“It’s very, very fascinating,” said Ian Tattersall, an authority on human evolution at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who was not involved in the research.

“No question there’s at least one new species here,” he added, “but there may be debate over the Homo designation, though the species is quite different from anything else we have seen.”

A colleague of Dr. Tattersall’s at the museum, Eric Delson, who is a professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York, was also impressed, saying, “Berger does it again!”

Dr. Delson was referring to Dr. Berger’s previous headline discovery, published in 2010, also involving cave deposits near Johannesburg. He found many fewer fossils that time, but enough to conclude that he was looking at a new species, which he named Australopithecus sediba. Geologists said the individuals lived 1.78 million to 1.95 million years ago, when australopithecines and early species of Homo were contemporaries.

Lee R. Berger, leader of a research team, in the Rising Star Cave near Johannesburg,
where over 1,550 fossil elements were found. CreditNaashon Zalk for The New York Times


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An expert all-women team of anthropologists dared the suffocating passages
of the South African Star Cave system. Kudos!

A Mighty Girl
https://www.facebook.com/amightygirl/photos/a.360833590619627.72897.316489315054055/901760099860304/?type=1&fref=nf&pnref=story

September 11, 2015

The discovery of a new hominin species is making headlines around the world this week but what many people don't realize is that the excavation team that uncovered this historic find was made up of six daring women scientists! The fossils were found at the bottom of a cave system in South Africa; one of the scientists, Marina Elliott, said that their collection and removal involved "some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions ever encountered in the search for human origins.” Thanks to the dedication of these six women, people everywhere will have the opportunity to gain new insight into the development of our species.

Palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger learned about the fossils in Rising Star Cave in October 2013 -- as well as their location, at the bottom of a 36 foot long shaft that gets as narrow as 7 inches across. He put up an ad on Facebook seeking scientists with a background in archaeology or paleontology, but with a catch: “the person must be skinny and preferably small. They must not be claustrophobic, they must be fit, they should have some caving experience, climbing experience would be a bonus.” He remembers thinking that “maybe there were three or four people in the world who would fit that criteria”, but within days he had 60 qualified applicants from around the world. He narrowed those down to six: Marina Elliott from Canada, Elen Feuerriegel from Australia, and K. Lindsay Eaves, Alia Gurtov, Hannah Morris, and Becca Peixotto from the United States.

Elliott, who was finishing a Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University when she saw the ad, was first on the scene. “I was predisposed to extreme environments,” she says. “Telling me that I’d have to do climbing, that it would be underground, and that it would be strange and potentially dangerous… it appealed.” Even still, she vividly recalls her first sight of the chute: “It’s a long crack, punctuated by shark-teeth protrusions. I remember looking down and thinking: I’m not sure I made the right decision." Given the difficulty and potential danger of the climb, Berger nicknamed the team “underground astronauts.”


During the 21-day excavation of the Rising Star cave, the team had to work carefully: “There was so much material and it was friable and delicate,” Elliott says. “And every day, we realized that we were pulling out another 40 or 60 fragments of this thing that was going to be incredible.” She and her five caving teammates excavated a nearly unheard of collection of hominin fossils: 1,550 fragments from at least 15 skeletons, representing a mix of male and female individuals. In the words of Ed Yong of The Atlantic, “To find one complete skeleton of a new hominin would be hitting the paleoanthropological jackpot. To find 15, and perhaps more, is like nuking the jackpot from orbit.”

Debate about Homo naledi’s age and importance in human prehistory, as well as the intriguing possibility that the bones are in the cave as a form of burial ritual, will be ongoing for years, but no one doubts that it represents an extraordinary find. Elliott has remained on the ground in South Africa where she is now directing the field operation and leading expeditions into other caves, eager to discover what else is out there. As she says, “We’re just scratching the surface."

You can read more about the all-female team of “underground astronauts” and this historic find on The Atlantic at http://theatln.tc/1Fzdsxh

To learn about more trailblazing women of science from around the world, we highly recommend the new book "Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science -- And The World," for teen and adult readers, ages 13 and up, at http://www.amightygirl.com/headstrong-52-women

To introduce children to one of the world’s first paleontologists, Mary Anning, we recommend "Mary Anning and The Sea Dragon" for ages 5 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/mary-anning-and-the-sea-dragon), “Stone Girl, Bone Girl” for ages 4 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/stone-girl) and “The Fossil Girl” for ages 5 to 9 (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-fossil-girl)

For a wonderful book about six remarkable women whose curiosity about nature fueled a passion to steadfastly overcome obstacles to careers in traditionally men-only occupations, we recommend "Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists" for ages 10 and up at http://www.amightygirl.com/girls-who-looked-under-rocks

If your kids would like to try an excavation of their own, check out the Crystal Mining Kit for ages 5 to 10 (http://www.amightygirl.com/crystal-mining-kit), the Treasures of the Earth Excavation Set for ages 5 to 9 (http://www.amightygirl.com/treasures-of-the-earth), and Smithsonian’s Diggin’ Up Dinos: T-Rex Kit for ages 7 to 12 (http://www.amightygirl.com/diggin-up-dinos-t-rex).

For more of our favorite science toys for igniting your children's curiosity about the natural world, visit our "Science Toys" section at http://www.amightygirl.com/toys/toys-games/science-math

And, if you have a Mighty Girl in your life who won't let any anyone tell her she can't do something because she's a girl, check out the "Though She Be But Little She Is Fierce" t-shirt -- available in a variety of styles and colors for all ages at http://www.amightygirl.com/fierce-t-shirt.


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