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1. ScienceDaily: “Life On Mars ‘Pregnancy Test’ Successfully Launched

Is Mars pregnant? That’s the question the Search for “Terrestrial” Intelligence has repeatedly run into this week, as last Friday saw the successful launch of “[k]ey components of a new approach to discover life on Mars”—informally dubbed the Mars “pregnancy test” and formally called the Life Marker Chip (LMC) experiment. A press release from LMC consortium member Carnegie Institution of Washington (itself adapted from a release by consortium member Cranfield University) tells their side of the story:

The new approach is based on technology similar to that used in pregnancy test kits. The so-called immunoassays are embodied in the [...] experiment, which has the potential to detect trace levels of biomarkers in the Martian environment. Biomarkers are molecular fingerprints that indicate if life currently is, or ever was, present on Mars.

Preparing a multimillion-dollar (we presume) equivalent of a pregnancy test in the Martian soil sounds so ridiculous that we’ve got to wonder whether they’re serious!

In fact, the current phase of the project (and the result of Friday’s launch) is a little closer to home. Right now, the goal is to test whether “key molecular components to be used in the LMC technology can survive the rigors of space.”

The eventual goal of the consortium, which includes organizations in Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., and the U.S., is to include the LMC experiment in the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover mission, slated for a 2013 launch. Dr. Mark Sims of the University of Leicester, project head, described the mission as being an “important stepping stone in our ultimate goal of putting a LMC experiment on the surface of Mars and using it to search for evidence of Life.”

The mission is still more than five years away (at least), and the LMC experiment may not be included. But we’re going to go out on a limb and make a prediction early: if the LMC components reach Mars and the experiment takes place, scientists won’t find any evidence of life*—but, in face of that absence, they will still find something to keep them hopeful, create media hubbub, and spur on another decade (at least!) of continued infatuation with the possibility of Martian life.

*Now, we recognize the possibility that earth life could have been transported to Mars. For example, something called “solar wind” could take spores from earth to Mars.


2. National Geographic News: “Odd Fossil Skeletons Show Both Apelike and Human Traits

A team reporting this week in the journal Nature announces the discovery of the remains of four individuals found at the site of a medieval castle at Dmanisi in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Dated at 1.77 million years old (by a yet unnamed method) and ascribed to Homo erectus, scientists claim that the fossils “fill crucial gaps in the story of our evolution.” Let’s take a closer look.

“If this [group] is Homo erectus, it is the most primitive and oldest one known,” claims study leader David Lordkipanidze of the Georgian National Museum. The National Geographic News article notes that the fossils appear to have been both “particularly primitive” and “noticeably different” from other H. erectus fossils because “[t]he newfound fossils [...] had unusually small brains and bodies compared with early H. erectus fossils from Africa,” and because, Lordkipanidze adds, “Their hands were still well adapted to life [in the trees].”

Yet the fossil remains also showed “modern human features [...] including long legs and a spine suited for long-distance running and walking.” The body proportions of the fossils are also considered more humanlike than “pre-Homo species,” and one scientist, Erik Trinkhaus of Washington University in St. Louis, emphasizes that “[w]hat is clear is that the overall anatomy is primarily for walking on the ground.”

Thus, the fossils, which the study authors see as filling a crucial gap in evolutionary understanding (and bridging the gap between ape-like ancestor and human), seem to show nearly every sign of being simply diminutive members of H. erectus, who walked as we do and who had, as Lordkipanidze stated, “modern human features.” As we note in Is there really evidence that man descended from the apes?, H. erectus was

smaller than the average human today, with an appropriately smaller head (and brain size). However, the brain size is within the range of people today and studies of the middle ear have shown that Homo erectus was just like us. Remains have been found in the same strata and in close proximity to ordinary Homo sapiens, suggesting that they lived together.

Indeed, H. erectus reminds us of H. floresiensis, the “hobbits” discovered in Indonesia ; plus a forthcoming AiG article on this week’s hobbit update regarding its wrist who were also fully human despite their small stature (despite recent yarn-spinning about the wrist bones). Finds like these, along with the Bible’s talk of giants, remind us that human variation has likely decreased in many ways over time—although the range of human body sizes today is still considerable.

As for the fossils’ hands, which are said to have been “still [a word underscoring the presupposition of evolution] well adapted” to living in trees, it is difficult for us to come to a definite conclusion with only the scientists’ assertion, rather than the fossils themselves, to examine! Our guess at this point is that while the hands may appear, relatively speaking, more ape-like than those of most “modern” Homo sapiens sapiens, the hands would nonetheless be much closer to our hands than to those of apes and will likely be morphologically within normal variation. Furthermore, it would be more ape-like feet—not hands—that would go farther in indicating a transitional form (human hands and ape hands are considerably more similar than human feet and ape feet are).

Of course, ultimately, we are dealing with the fossilized remains of humans that lived in the past and, thus, both creationists and evolutionists have to fill in information we don’t know about them with information we do know—both starting with our different presuppositions. That is why evolutionists see evolution “everywhere” and creationists see God’s handiwork everywhere. And that is why, even if a fossil find did show signs of transitional status (not that anyone has found a fossil that truly does), we will always take God at His Word first and then seek to discover how the facts fit. You will note that evolutionists do the same in presupposing that evolution has occurred and then attempt to interpret the facts in that framework. Problem is, in their case, when the facts don’t fit, the plasticity of evolutionary definitions and theory has to be kicked in. Not so with the Word of God.

Interestingly, it is Trinkhaus who neatly sums up our viewpoint. “They were little people with little brains—that doesn’t really surprise me.”


3. LiveScience: “Slimy Salamanders Caught Crossbreeding

Joining the ranks of such hybrid animals as ligers and wholphins, LiveScience reports on this week, is a new hybrid salamander breed of the California tiger salamander and barred salamanders.

Puzzling though it sounds, the researchers, who reported on the discovery in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest the hybrid salamanders are more likely to survive than either parent species—even though the hybrids are infertile. In a bit of irony, the hybrids are helping drive one of their parent species—the California tiger salamander—toward extinction.

“The mixture of genes from organisms that are distinct enough to be called separate species don’t usually produce healthy, fit offspring,” explains evolutionary biologist Benjamin Fitzpatrick of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. To creationists, these hybrids—even though often infertile—are reminders of the originally created kinds that encompassed more than what today’s “species” (or even “genus”) classification encompasses. The hybrids are a sign that, although selection of existing genetic material has caused the original kinds to diverge over time (as illustrated, notably, by the many “mutant” dog varieties), fundamentally, each modern animal is still a member of its original kind. Thus, successful offspring can frequently be produced between individuals of different species or even different genera.

Understanding the accurate creationist view is crucial to defending the Bible’s account of history and the origin of living things. Rather than presenting a static creation of millions of animal species, Genesis presents God’s creation of a (relatively) smaller number of kinds that have adapted within their kind to the environment via natural selection.

And, of course, this lines up exactly with what we observe—various species/varieties of bears (or dogs, chickens, snakes, cattle—you get the idea) have arisen over time, but bears are still bears and are still giving birth to bears!


4. LiveScience: “This Bird Made a Monkey Out of Humans

An obituary for a grey parrot named Alex reminds us that evolutionists’ ideas about human origins don’t always—or should we say don’t often?—line up with reality. LiveScience has the story:

Alex was best known to the public as the amazing talking parrot. Way beyond “Polly want a cracker,” this bird knew more than 100 words and could hold a decent conversation.

Rather impressive, huh? LiveScience columnist (and Cornell University anthropologist) Meredith F. Small goes on to explain that Alex and her owner, chemist Dr. Irene Pepperberg, faced “an uphill battle getting academics to listen” to her argument that Alex was notable. Why? Because “[s]he was [...] up against a particularly difficult audience—the chimp people,” who, based on evolutionary theory, considered chimps the closest living relatives to humans and the unchallenged smartest animals:

Chimp researchers are the kings and queens of primate research because their subjects share more DNA in common with humans than any other animal on earth. From that exhaled pantheon, a woman with a parrot simply couldn’t play well.

We’ve reported on sometimes forgotten/ignored avian intelligence in the past—most prominently with crows (whose intelligence seems to be of perennial note, including in item #5 of the August 25, 2007, News to Note), but also with cetaceans and elephants. The question is, if animals other than apes are also intelligent, why is it that apes are so frequently characterized as unique among animals as having (as it’s sometimes construed) “near-human” intelligence (though, of course, no animal intelligence even approximates that of humans)? Perhaps the LiveScience article unwittingly sheds light on the answer:

Here was a bird that in many ways did better at language than chimps. What did that say about human evolution?

We’ll give you a hint: Alex’s intelligence said something about human evolution that evolutionists just didn’t (and still don’t) want to accept!

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