Human devolution

An anthropologist has documented a remarkable physical decline in modern man:

Many prehistoric Australian aboriginals could have outrun world 100 and 200 meters record holder Usain Bolt in modern conditions.

Some Tutsi men in Rwanda exceeded the current world high jump record of 2.45 meters during initiation ceremonies in which they had to jump at least their own height to progress to manhood.

Any Neanderthal woman could have beaten former bodybuilder and current California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm wrestle.

These and other eye-catching claims are detailed in a book by Australian anthropologist Peter McAllister entitled “Manthropology” and provocatively sub-titled “The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male.” . . .

His conclusions about the speed of Australian aboriginals 20,000 years ago are based on a set of footprints, preserved in a fossilized claypan lake bed, of six men chasing prey. An analysis of the footsteps of one of the men, dubbed T8, shows he reached speeds of 37 kph on a soft, muddy lake edge. Bolt, by comparison, reached a top speed of 42 kph during his then world 100 meters record of 9.69 seconds at last year’s Beijing Olympics.

In an interview in the English university town of Cambridge where he was temporarily resident, McAllister said that, with modern training, spiked shoes and rubberized tracks, aboriginal hunters might have reached speeds of 45 kph.

“We can assume they are running close to their maximum if they are chasing an animal,” he said.

“But if they can do that speed of 37 kph on very soft ground I suspect there is a strong chance they would have outdone Usain Bolt if they had all the advantages that he does.

“We can tell that T8 is accelerating toward the end of his tracks.” . . .

Turning to the high jump, McAllister said photographs taken by a German anthropologist showed young men jumping heights of up to 2.52 meters in the early years of last century.

“It was an initiation ritual, everybody had to do it. They had to be able to jump their own height to progress to manhood,” he said.

“It was something they did all the time and they lived very active lives from a very early age. They developed very phenomenal abilities in jumping. They were jumping from boyhood onwards to prove themselves.”

McAllister said a Neanderthal woman had 10 percent more muscle bulk than modern European man. Trained to capacity she would have reached 90 percent of Schwarzenegger’s bulk at his peak in the 1970s.

“But because of the quirk of her physiology, with a much shorter lower arm, she would slam him to the table without a problem,” he said.

Manthropology abounds with other examples:

* Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.

* Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.

* Australian aboriginals threw a hardwood spear 110 meters or more (the current world javelin record is 98.48).

Of course, modern man does not need to be so physical, with our technology, tools, and conveniences. We might think that our development instead has been in our minds. We certainly have an accumulation of great technological blessings, which inventors and engineers make available to the rest of us. And yet our technology, tools, and conveniences arguably mean that we likewise do not have to use our minds to the level that we once did. I think of what Luther said in his call to town councilmen to open Christian schools. In his praise of the liberal arts and classical education, he said that if we could roll up all of the monks, priests, and bishops together, they would not match up to the educational level achieved by one Roman soldier. And no one today would want to get into a fight with one.

Devolution

Particle collider zapped from the future?

You know that new particle collider that was supposed to isolate the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle,” which supposedly gives particles their mass? And how some people worried that the experiment might create a black hole that would destroy the earth? Well, the collider keeps breaking down. To the point of provoking a new theory. From The New York Times:

More than a year after an explosion of sparks, soot and frigid helium shut it down, the world’s biggest and most expensive physics experiment, known as the Large Hadron Collider, is poised to start up again. In December, if all goes well, protons will start smashing together in an underground racetrack outside Geneva in a search for forces and particles that reigned during the first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang.

Then it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I’m not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I’m talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.

Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, put this idea forward in a series of papers with titles like “Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal” and “Search for Future Influence From LHC,” posted on the physics Web site arXiv.org in the last year and a half.

According to the so-called Standard Model that rules almost all physics, the Higgs is responsible for imbuing other elementary particles with mass.

“It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”

This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”

I realize that part of this must be jocular, but still it is interesting that the imagination of our theorists is taking such forms.

HT: Joe Carter at First Things

“The shroud is more than the image”

Italian scientists have claimed to have reproduced the apparent image of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin by wrapping a person in linen, rubbing him with ochre, and putting blood on the result. But now a group of pro-shroud experts is casting doubt on that casting of doubt. From the Christian Telegraph, Experts question scientist’s claim of reproducing Shroud of Turin:

Dr. Jackson first questioned the technique used by Garlaschelli’s team, taking issue with the method of adding blood after aging the cloth. Jackson explained that he has conducted “two independent observations that argue that the blood features on the shroud” show “that the blood was on it first, then the body image came second.”

Dr. Keith Propp, a physicist who is also a colleague of Jackson’s, told CNA that while Garlaschelli’s shroud “does create an image that could’ve been done in medieval times,” there are a many things that “are not consistent with what the actual shroud shows us.”

For example, he continued, we know that the blood contacted the shroud before the body “because there’s no image beneath the shroud.” He added that this image pattern would be difficult to duplicate “because it would ruin the blood stains.”

Another area concern for the scientists is the three dimensionality of the shroud.

Propp explained that while Garlaschelli’s cloth does have some aspects of light and dark to create a three-dimensional perspective, “it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as the shroud” and that “it misses out on the accuracy and subtleties that are in the actual image.”

Dr. Jackson from the Turin Shroud Center also touched on the same point, saying, “The shroud’s image intensity varies with” the distances in between the cloth and the body. While he admitted that the images of Garlaschelli’s shroud on the internet look authentic, when taken from a 3-D perspective, “it’s really rather grotesque.” . . .

Garlachelli’s technique has also received criticism from other experts. One scientist from the Shroud Science Group, a private forum of about 100 scientists, historians and researchers provided CNA with some of the critiques made in the forum.

One English-speaking expert explained that the blood used on the Shroud of Turin is not whole blood. “They didn’t just go out and kill a goat and paint the blood on the cloth. The blood chemistry is very specific,” he said explaining that the blood is from “actual wounds.”

He added that most of the blood on the shroud flowed after death. “The side wound and the blood that puddles across the small of the back are post-mortem blood flows,” he said, adding that blood flowing after death “shows a clear separation of blood and serum.”

Propp added, “In some ways, it comes out better than most others I’ve seen before. Still there are too many things – the shroud is more than just the image.”

I know, I know. Our faith comes from the Word, not relics. Still, I’m intrigued. Carbon-dating has the shroud originating in the Middle Ages, though some pro-shroud advocates have questioned that also. Are they saying that there is blood on the Shroud? That is, the blood of Jesus? I’d like to see the DNA sequencing of THAT sample. (If it showed only a female line, that would be definitive!) I know, I know. If I want the blood of Christ, I should go to Holy Communion. But a historical event, such as the transformation that took place at the moment of the Resurrection, could leave behind evidence, so this is worth studying.

The caps on chromosomes

It’s Nobel Prize season, a time to salute good scholarship and, even more, to marvel at the structures built into nature that the winners have discovered. This year’s Nobel prize for medicine goes to three scientists who discovered how chromosomes stay together and keep their integrity even after the cells split. It seems the strands of genetic material have little caps on their ends:

Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California at San Francisco, Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Jack W. Szostak of Harvard Medical School in Boston were awarded the $1.4 million 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. It was the first time two women shared the prize. . . .

The scientists won for a series of experiments they conducted in the 1970s and 1980s that showed that the long, intricate molecules known as chromosomes, which carry genes inside every cell, have protective structures on their ends — often likened to the plastic tips on shoelaces — called telomeres, which are replenished with an enzyme dubbed telomerase.

The work “solved a major problem in biology” and has led to groundbreaking insights into the aging process and potentially to new treatments for cancer and many other health problems, the Nobel Assembly said.

“This is a fundamental biological mechanism,” said Rune Toftgard of the Karolinska Institute.

In time and after multitudes of cell divisions, those caps degrade, leading to the degeneration of the cells, as we aging folks are experiencing. Knowing about these caps mean that some of those effects might conceivably be reversed, and knocking off the caps might help us defeat the uncontrolled cell division that is cancer.

But those caps are absolutely necessary for life and reproduction. I suppose an atheist materialist would have to say, “Isn’t it lucky that chromosomes randomly generated those little caps?”

But surely this is an example of irreducible complexity. Those little caps couldn’t have evolved, because to have evolution, you must have reproduction. These are necessary for reproduction, which means they have must have first appeared fully-formed.

The vocation of an astronaut

Astronaut Jeff Williams is blasting off into space today on a Russian rocket, headed to the International Space Station where he will spend 6 months. This will be his third space voyage and his second 6 month stint on the space station. He will be among the leaders in time spent in outer space.

He is a devout Christian and a Missouri Synod Lutheran. Our paths have crossed several times–he is a fan of my book on vocation!–and I have gotten to know him. Pray for a safe blastoff today. And pray for him from time to time on his long, long mission away from his family. (He’s also written a book that I wrote an introduction for. Stay tuned for news about that.)

So let’s consider the vocation of an astronaut. How can a space traveller live out his faith in that particular line of work? How can he love and serve his neighbor?

UPDATE: The launch went well, and he’s in orbit. Thanks to Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren for posting a video of the launch, which includes both the blastoff and shots inside the capsule. (Jeff is the astronaut above and to the right.) Paul also posts some more details, including how to sign up to get Jeff’s twitter feed from orbit. His last message closed with “sdg,” the same letters Bach used to conclude his musical compositions: “Soli Deo Gloria,” to God alone be the glory.

On the job at the National Science Foundation

Some employees of the taxpayer-funded National Science Foundation are not spending their days doing science. The agency is reportedly plagued with a pornography epidemic.

Employee misconduct investigations, often involving workers accessing pornography from their government computers, grew sixfold last year inside the taxpayer-funded foundation that doles out billions of dollars of scientific research grants, according to budget documents and other records obtained by The Washington Times.

The problems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) were so pervasive they swamped the agency’s inspector general and forced the internal watchdog to cut back on its primary mission of investigating grant fraud and recovering misspent tax dollars.

“To manage this dramatic increase without an increase in staff required us to significantly reduce our efforts to investigate grant fraud,” the inspector general recently told Congress in a budget request. “We anticipate a significant decline in investigative recoveries and prosecutions in coming years as a direct result.”

The budget request doesn’t state the nature or number of the misconduct cases, but records obtained by The Times through the Freedom of Information Act laid bare the extent of the well-publicized porn problem inside the government-backed foundation.

For instance, one senior executive spent at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer and chatting online with nude or partially clad women without being detected, the records show.

When finally caught, the NSF official retired. He even offered, among other explanations, a humanitarian defense, suggesting that he frequented the porn sites to provide a living to the poor overseas women. Investigators put the cost to taxpayers of the senior official’s porn surfing at between $13,800 and about $58,000.

“He explained that these young women are from poor countries and need to make money to help their parents and this site helps them do that,” investigators wrote in a memo.

The independent foundation, funded by taxpayers to the tune of $6 billion in 2008, is tasked with handing out scientific grants to colleges, universities and research institutions nationwide. The projects it funds ranges from mapping the genome of the potato to exploring outer space with powerful new telescopes. It has a total of 1,200 career employees.

Recent budget documents for the inspector general cite a “6-fold increase in employee misconduct cases and associated proactive management implication report activities.” The document doesn’t say how many cases were involved in the increase, and officials could not immediately provide a figure. . . .

Another employee in a different case was caught with hundreds of pictures, videos and even PowerPoint slide shows containing pornography. Asked by an investigator whether he had completed any government work on a day when a significant amount of pornography was downloaded, the employee responded, “Um, I can’t remember,” according to records.

They do this on the job? While they are being paid?


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