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1. BBC NEWS: “Ethiopia yields ancestral fossils

A new “cache” of fossil remains belonging to what are described as “early human ancestors” has been discovered in the Woranso-Mille area of Ethiopia, reports BBC NEWS based on information from America’s Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The remains include multiple complete jaws and one partial skeleton, and have been dated to some 3.5–3.8 million years ago. Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a leader of the team that uncovered the bones, explained the discovery’s alleged evolutionary significance to the BBC:

One of the reasons why this discovery is really important is because it serves as a time frame that we know nothing about in the past and that's what makes it really significant.
We have a record of about six million years of early human evolution in Ethiopia, but there are also small gaps here and there and this one happens to be one of them.

According to the press release, the fossils “may prove to be a bridge to establishing a relationship between the earlier Australopithecus anamensis ... and the later Australopithecus afarensis[.]”

It’s interesting to note that evolutionists only seem to acknowledge gaps (albeit “small”) in the fossil record when finding bones they feel plug one of those gaps. One also wonders how much the dating game and problematic dating methods played into the announced age of the fossils.

Not only that, but—as usual—most of the fossils are too insignificant to unquestionably buttress claims that they belong to an intermediate pre-“Lucy” form; the only fossil find more substantial than a jaw is a partial skeleton, but no information has been released regarding just how partial that skeleton is (though the press release states that it is still being excavated).

Furthermore, one wonders how these new remains differ from the long-paraded Lucy of evolutionary fame; since Lucy and others of her kind can easily be understood as belonging to a group of extinct apes, we expect the same conclusion can be applied to the original owners of these newly discovered bones. Until a full analysis of the bones appears in a scientific journal, however, all we and the public will have to go on are suddenly ubiquitous headlines heralding the new trove of supposed evidence for human evolution. It’s sad that before a detailed analysis has even been done, they are ready to trumpet their preconceived “conclusion” to the media. Apparently, they have already made up their minds before doing the research.

2. ScienceNOW: “Hot Jupiters Wet Too

The exoplanetary-analysis community is buzzing with news this week of the possible discovery of water on HD189733b, an exoplanet 64 light-years from earth. This “could-be” announcement echoes a similar announcement three months ago that water had been found on HD209458b. We asked at that time,

[w]ould the presence of water on a faraway planet support the story that life arose out of primordial clay? Of course not. Even so, it’s quite telling that there’s so much evolutionary focus on the mere possibility of the presence of water, despite the fact that the steps that would transform water (and other substances) into life have never been found in nature!

While the earlier announcement was “met with skepticism,” as described in our April 14 News to Note (item #4), this new claim carries more weight, according to the French scientists who conducted the research, because “the observations were taken in infrared light, which is far better at detecting light-absorption patterns unique to water.” (Scientists cannot observe water in far-flung solar systems directly, but rather analyze light spectrums and use computer programs to search for “specific light-absorption ‘signatures.’”)

Unfortunately for those who want to use this discovery to fuel search-for-life efforts, there are several “problems” with the water on HD189733b. First, the water is in vapor form, not liquid. Phil Berardelli’s ScienceNOW article explains the problem:

But other experts say there’s a big difference between water vapor, as discovered in HD 189733b's atmosphere, and liquid water, which is what astronomers are really hoping to nail down. The new findings are “entirely reasonable,” but they fall short of the main goal of the search, says astrobiologist Margaret Turnbull of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Water vapor “is actually fairly common in the universe,” she says, “what is rare is liquid water, and that’s the key to life as we know it.”

On top of that, scientists can’t determine, using the current analytical technique, what the density of water vapor is in the atmosphere of HD189733b; they do not know “whether it is present in only trace amounts or at much higher levels.”

Also noted by the article is that “[m]ost scientists think that life cannot exist without water,” which is cited as the reason why astronomers have been spending the last decade “looking for signs of water on the 200-plus exoplanets now known.”

Perhaps astrobiologists searching for extraplanetary life shouldn’t be looking through telescopes—or so says the (U.S.) National Academies of Science National Research Council. The NRC issued a recent report that suggests more research should be done on earth—using microscopes—to help humans “understand the potential for life based on chemistry that differs drastically from our own.”

Provocatively, the report claims “the search for life on other planets has been hampered by Earth-centric assumptions—that life depends on water, for example.” The authors of the report instead suggest the possible existence of life based on ammonia or formamide, and suggest, among other things, that scientists must “create life in the lab with building blocks not used in Earthly organisms” to help frame and enlighten the search for off-world life. Ironic, since they have thus far failed to “create life” as we know it.

According to Penn State University geoscientist Katherine Freeman, the report “articulately lays out the risks of focusing on life as we know it.” Or, we wonder, does it offer evolutionary scientists a convenient “way out” if potentially watery planets, the current recipient of exoplanetary search resources (as described above), fail to turn up signs of life?

Punctuating the discussion of life—both its many hypothesized extraterrestrial forms and our traditional view of it—are comments by Steven Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution:

The report encourages NASA to consider some “deep questions,” says Steven Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Florida. “Why are we here? How did we originate? These are some fundamental questions.”

We couldn’t agree more—and, as a matter of fact, have built a museum with a planetarium (you may have heard of it) to help people ask and answer such questions (including those about the origin of life). Of course, evolutionary scientists are fueling their own projects in their as-yet unanswered quest to answer those questions—including a new Mars-bound life-hunting NASA spacecraft.

3. LiveScience: “Evolution Occurs in the Blink of an Eye

You heard it here first: “evolution” happens fast! This fact has long been pointed out by creationists (see, for example, the video “Rapid Speciation”), and slowly but surely, evolutionists seem to be catching on.

The latest example of such evolution comes from a butterfly population on an island in the South Pacific, where selective pressure narrowed the portion of male Blue Moon butterflies to one percent, then promoted their share to nearly forty percent—“all in less than a year.” Gregory Hurst, a University College London evolutionary geneticist who participated in the study that observed the trends, explained their surprise:

“We usually think of natural selection as acting slowly, over hundreds or thousands of years … [b]ut the example in this study happened in a blink of the eye, in terms of evolutionary time.”

(Of course, even in terms of the creation timeline, one year is quite rapid; after all, 6,000 years, though decried as laughably brief by old-agers, is nonetheless an extremely long period of time!)

Disappointingly, the study, which was published in this week’s issue of the journal Science, apparently does not discuss the exact mechanism of the butterflies’ evolution other than saying laboratory work “indicated the males had evolved suppressor genes to shield against the parasite.” Although it is difficult for us to speculate on such nebulous “evolution,” experience with similar claims suggests it is not the sort that is purported to have given rise to all of life. This is because, time and time again, we see selective pressure causing life to adapt in ways that require no new genetic information; the beneficial mutations we observe either destroy or alter existing information, but never create new information.

Such rapid adaptation, which can give rise to rapid speciation, explains how land-bound life has expanded to its current high level of diversity even after the diversity “bottleneck” caused by the Flood. Adaptations based on the genetic information in the animals brought on board the Ark have multiplied the original created kinds into the variety of species we find today, some 4,300 years after the Flood. Of course it’s important to understand the terminology—especially when the term evolution, in particular, is commonly misused via equivocation—and know the difference between what’s occurring here, i.e., natural selection, and molecules-to-man evolution. See also Natural Selection vs. Evolution.

4. ScienceDaily: “Neutral Evolution Has Helped Shape Our Genome

And speaking of genetic information, we note a new report in PLoS Genetics from Johns Hopkins researchers adds “to the growing mound of evidence that many of the genetic bits and pieces that drive evolutionary changes do not confer any advantages or disadvantages to humans or other animals,” reports ScienceDaily based on a Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions news release.

Johns Hopkins associate professor Nicholas Katsanis describes experiments that “demonstrate that one of the major architectural markers of the human genome, DNA repeat elements that make up over 40 percent of our genome, rose to prominence without offering any benefits to the organism it inhabits.” The team found more than 1,200 portions of mitochondrial DNA copied into chromosomes. These sequences, called numts, lack the “blueprint ... to make a protein that does anything” and are therefore neutral or “mildly negative” parts of the genome.

Based on molecular dating and the number of numts in chimps, mice, and rats, the team concluded that “most numts became embedded in our genome over a 10-million-year period centered roughly 54 million years ago[.]”

Creationists have, perhaps, two more satisfactory explanations of numts. Since the Fall (Genesis 3), our genome—and the genomes of all creation—have been subject to corruption and have steadily eroded, increasingly losing the vestiges of the original perfection. These genomic duplications are, in all likelihood, one example of the problems genomes now house, along with problematic mutations that have given rise to various malformities, diseases, and the like. Secondly, scientists continually uncover important functions in genetic segments once considered “junk,” “deserts,” and even “mildly negative” (for example, see News to Note, June 23, 2007, item #5, or News to Note, June 16, 2007, item #2). Thus, although we cannot determine a function now, these repeated elements may facilitate some important function in an as-yet-unforeseen manner.

5. The Telegraph: “Tiny tablet provides proof for Old Testament

Although Answers in Genesis is known (for good reason!) for our focus on a literal Genesis, we see “Genesis apologetics” not as a standalone project, but as an important defense of the standpoint that all of the Bible is God’s Word, and, thus, that the message of salvation presented in it is true. And so, while there is a long period of time between “Confusion” (the Tower of Babel) and “Christ” that our ministry focuses on less directly, our goal is to promote the truth of the entire Bible.

We are therefore as excited as other Christians by the news of “what has been called the most important find in Biblical archaeology for 100 years, a discovery that supports the view that the historical books of the Old Testament are based on fact.”

Assyriologist Michael Jursa, a visiting professor at the British Museum, came upon a name on one of the museum’s 130,000 Assyrian cuneiform tablets that struck him as familiar. After checking, he confirmed that the name belonged to a Babylonian official, Nebo-Sarsekim, who is also mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3. The Bible describes Nebo-Sarsekim as a chief officer of Nebuchadnezzar, infamous besieger of Jerusalem in 587 BC.

The tablet, which is dated to 595 BC, is “a bill of receipt acknowledging [Nebo-Sarsekim’s] payment of 0.75 kg [1.65 lbs] of gold to a temple in Babylon.” While the find may seem trivial to some, it is yet another important find to remind believers and unbelievers alike of the accuracy of the Bible, as Irving Finkel, a British Museum expert, describes (in not so many words):

This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find[.] [...] If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power.

Of course, critics will be swift to point out that proving one person in the Bible as authentic (something that has been done many times before) is not the same as proving the Bible is inerrant; indeed, we agree that piling up evidence, while a strong support of the Bible, is putting the cart before the horse (remember that the perfect Word of God is always to be trusted first over man’s fallible ideas, although the Holy Spirit can use such evidence to change hearts). Trusting in the Bible allows us to see such finds as important support, but not independent confirmation, of the Bible’s authenticity.

Based on this discovery, we wonder if evidence of Noah’s great feat will come not in the form of the Ark’s remains on a mountain in Asia, but rather in the form of a receipt for a few hundred tons of gopher wood signed by the Ark-builder himself!

6. LiveScience: “Astronomers Find Farthest Known Galaxies

Astronomers continue to peer farther and farther beyond our galaxy, and continue—as reported by a recent team of astronomers—to find galaxies farther and farther out. An international team lead by California Institute of Technology astronomer Richard Ellis has benefited by a natural “gravitational lens” that allowed the team to identify light coming from over 13 billion light-years away. Based on uniformitarian astrophysical assumptions, the scientists have concluded that these galaxies are from “only” 500 million years after the dawn of big-bang-based astronomical time.

Fascinating as the discovery is, and as much as the astonishing distance reminds us of the almost incomprehensible size of the universe (and of its incredible Creator, as we powerfully show in our new planetarium), it’s important to remember it is only through uniformitarian assumptions that such distant light can be equated with such extreme age. There are numerous frameworks that both agree with the Bible and explain “distant starlight,” including differing conventions of time measurement and the popular white-hole cosmology of Dr. Russell Humphreys.

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!

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