This week:

  1. Biologist fired for beliefs, suit says
  2. Are You Smarter than a Chimp?
  3. Possible Biblical Wall Uncovered
  4. The Devil and Mr. Darwin?

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1. The Boston Globe: “Biologist fired for beliefs, suit says

Should employers have the right to mandate a belief that they say is integral to the work?

The firing of Dr. Nathaniel Abraham at a renowned New England institute is somewhat surprising in one aspect: his bosses admit they fired him because of his creationist beliefs (even though he did not push those beliefs on the job) and have not tried to hide their motivation. It made them open to charges of religious discrimination. This past week, Dr. Abraham’s attorneys filed a civil rights/religious discrimination lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Boston.

Dr. Abraham was a postdoctoral fellow in the field of fish development at the highly respected Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. When he told his
supervisor in 2004 that he was a creationist, Dr. Abraham was soon terminated. The Boston Globe was clearly not very sympathetic towards Dr. Abraham’s plight. In addition to quoting evolutionists from California and Florida who piled on Dr. Abraham, the newspaper misled readers by stating that Dr. Abraham held a doctorate in philosophy when it is actually a PhD in biology (suggesting that he may not have been qualified for this scientific research position).*

Dr. Abraham now teaches biology at Liberty University in Virginia. Return to this website on Monday for a fuller treatment on this lawsuit.



*It could be that the reporters misunderstood the nature of the degree when they contacted Dr. Abraham’s alma mater about his degree.


2. BBC News: “Chimps Beat Humans in Memory Test”

Based on test results published in Current Biology, chimpanzees have “an extraordinary photographic memory that is far superior to ours.” The tests were devised by Japanese scientists and pitted university students against three pairs of mother-and-child chimps.

The tests required participants to remember the location of numbers on a computer display, then correctly recall their positions after the numbers were replaced with blank squares. The chimpanzees (including the three five-year-old youths) were taught to “count” to nine for the test.

Surprisingly, the young chimpanzees performed better than both their mothers and the university students, who were slower than all three young chimpanzees in responding. Even after the researchers began to vary the amount of time the numbers appeared on-screen, the chimps continued to outperform the students in speed and accuracy.

Lead researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University outlined the significance of the test results. “There are still many people, including many biologists, who believe that humans are superior to chimpanzees in all cognitive functions. . . . No one can imagine that chimpanzees—young chimpanzees at the age of five—have a better performance in a memory task than humans.”

The most significant conclusion the team made was that the young chimpanzees beat the human contestants even when the numbers weren’t on the screen long enough to be read. This suggests the young chimps have a photographic memory that, the BBC article explains, “allows them to memorise a complex scene or pattern at a glance.” The researchers add that the ability is present in some human children but the ability abates with age.

Emory University chimp expert Lisa Parr, who described the research as “ground-breaking,” adopted an evolutionary interpretation to the research: “They are our closest living relatives and thus are in a unique position to inform us about our evolutionary heritage.” However, Parr (and others who have come to the same conclusion) seem to be ignoring the fact that it was the young chimps (not the mother chimps) that consistently beat the adult students, even though, as mentioned above, photographic memory seems to be present in the juveniles of both groups.

If the human adult’s “photographic memory” is sluggish when looking at numeric images, it may be because of years of reading, rather than merely looking at, numbers. In that case, the human mind is effectively trying too hard, attempting to identify not merely where certain shapes reside on the screen, but trying to apply names and a sequence to the images (that is, adding at least one other part of the brain into the mix). If this is the case, the test is essentially unfairly skewed toward non-reading participants, which may be partially addressed in their comment “These studies tell us that elaborate short-term memory skills may have had a much more salient function in early humans than is present in modern humans, perhaps due to our increasing reliance on language-based memory skills.”

Also not addressed in the BBC article is how much time the chimpanzees had spent practicing the game (presumably with food or other incentives for successful completion) compared to the amount of familiarity the human participants were given before their trials.

Ultimately, what if the chimpanzees have a stronger photographic memory capability than do humans? While certainly surprising, it would in no way show humanity to be ape cousins any more than do other amazing animal capabilities (e.g., birds’ ability to detect the earth’s magnetic field). While more tests will no doubt be fascinating (unless the tests show superior human intelligence, in which case the results will likely get little news attention), the current results offer no particular support for Darwinian theory.


3. AP: “Biblical Wall May Have Been Located

A wall mentioned in Nehemiah—but thought by some archaeologists not to exist—has been found, according to an Israeli archaeologist.

The Associated Press reports on the work of Eilat Mazar, head of the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center’s Institute of Archaeology, whose team conducted the excavation of the wall. Found in Jerusalem’s ancient City of David, the wall was accidentally discovered “during a rescue attempt on a tower that was in danger of collapse.”

Mazar’s team concluded from artifacts found under the tower (including pottery shards and arrowheads) that both the tower and the wall belonged to Nehemiah’s time, the fifth century B.C., three or four centuries older than was originally thought by other scholars.

“This was a great surprise. It was something we didn't plan,” said Mazar, who believes the first part of the excavation revealed the remains of King David’s palace. The AP story notes that many scholars had argued the wall did not exist.

Archaeological finds, as with paleontological, geological, astronomical, etc., discoveries, must be filtered or interpreted through a worldview. This is especially the case with discoveries from the past, such as a dinosaur fossil or an ancient wall, because almost all such finds can only be dated indirectly and circumstantially; thus, without the testimony of someone who was there, we cannot know for certain much of anything about objects from the past.

Matching up archaeological discoveries with the Bible can’t prove the Bible; however, such discoveries remind us of the Bible’s real account of history and often force unbelievers to ask just how the Bible ends up being right, time and time again, when it comes to the questions of archaeology—and beyond.


4. Reuters: “Poll Finds More Americans Believe in Devil than Darwin

A new Harris poll conducted in the United States shows that more people believe in a literal hell and devil than believe in evolution.

Referring to the implications of the finding as a “cultural trait that sets [the United States] apart from much of the developed world,” Reuters describes the results from the 2,455 adults surveyed in November:

  • 82% believe in God
  • 79% believe in miracles
  • 75% believe in heaven
  • 72% believe that Jesus is “God or the Son of God”
  • 62% believe in hell and the devil
  • 42% believe in “Darwin’s theory,” as Reuters calls it

Except for Darwin’s theory, belief in each was more common among those described as born-again Christians compared to those described as Catholics and Protestants.1 The converse was true with Darwin’s theory, with only “16 percent of born-again Christians, compared to 43 percent of Catholics and 30 percent of Protestants,” accepting Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life.

None of this is particularly surprising, of course; the United States is known (and increasingly “notorious”) for being a “Christian” nation (though belief in heaven, miracles, God, and hell and the devil are not exclusive to Christians). The interesting question is whether a worldwide poll of the same groups (self-described Protestants, Catholics, and “born-again” Christians) would show a similar propensity to believe in what the Bible describes (God, supernatural creation, miracles, etc.) and reject Darwinian theory, or if the trend was at least international among any particular group. Our guess is that while general religiosity may be an American trait, belief in what the Bible teaches (including about origins) is true of born-again believers worldwide.



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Footnotes

  1. Reuters describes the term “born-again Christian” as “usually refer[ring] to evangelical Protestants who place great emphasis on the conversion experience.” Back