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1. BBC News: “Neanderthals ‘Were Flame-haired’

It’s a common caricature in textbooks, movies, and—more true than ever today—TV shows: a brow-ridged, (often) club-carrying Neanderthal, covered in thick, messy red hair.

Wait a second—red hair? Contrary to nearly all artists’ interpretations of Neanderthals as dark-haired, a DNA study published in the journal Science has shown that some Neanderthals (sometimes spelled Neandertals) were “probably redheads,” reports BBC News.

The team, led by University of Barcelona geneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox, found a variant of the gene MC1R in Neanderthals that “is not present in modern humans, but which causes an effect on the hair similar to that seen in modern redheads,” Fox explains.

What’s more, this helps confirm that Neanderthals likely sported “the whole range of hair colour we see today in modern European populations, from dark to blond right through to red.” All modern humans have MC1R, with redheads possessing a mutated version of it that alters cells’ chemistry—producing red hair and pale skin.

To test the Neanderthal variant of MC1R, the scientists inserted the gene into a melanin-producing human cell called a melanocyte. The DNA was taken from the remains of two Neanderthals, one found in Italy and the other in Spain.

The researchers observed “the same loss of function in the Neanderthal form of MC1R as they did in modern variants of the gene which produce red hair.”

The result adds to the evidence that Neanderthals, while having some relatively trivial distinctions from mainstream “modern” humans, were nonetheless descendants of Adam and therefore created in the image of God. Lalueza-Fox argues that the Neanderthal variant of the gene suggests Neanderthals and modern humans did not interbreed.

This news complements last week’s announcement that Neanderthals have the same language gene modern humans have—a gene found nowhere else in nature. See last week’s item #4 for more information on how the “caveman” Neanderthal looks more and more like a modern human every day.

2. National Geographic News: “Weird Mars Deposits Could Be Vast “Ice Cap” at Equator

The existence of water on Mars is once again on scientists’ minds, this time because of new high-resolution radar images of the red planet.

Researchers led by Thomas Watters of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum pored over radar images of the martian surface and found similarities between deposits near the equator and sediments at the ice-covered poles. The properties of the deposits have the researchers wondering if they could possibly be ice.

The other possibility, according to Watters, is that the deposits are “dry, low-density materials.”

The deposits, located in the equatorial plateaus known as the Medusae Fossae Formation, have puzzled researchers for decades, reports National Geographic News. The radar images show the deposits to be “highly porous,” meaning

they could be pure ice protected by a meters-thick blanket of sediments or that they are made of an airy, pumicelike substance.

Watters also notes that the electrical properties of the deposits “were so similar to [those of] polar layered deposits that are known to be ice rich."

Astrogeologist Kenneth Tanaka of the U.S. Geological Survey finds the idea surprising. “It would be like finding evidence of ice caps on Earth at the Equator . . . [i]t's kind of very strange.”

According to Tanaka, though, the deposits “don't look much like the polar layered deposits morphologically.” Furthermore, Watters and his colleagues say that either volcanic ash or “wind-blown deposits” could create material porous enough to be mistaken for ice. The problem is there are no volcanoes nearby that might account for volcanic ash.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why some scientists are excited about this icy prospect. National Geographic News notes that, “If the equatorial plateaus do contain lots of ice, they could hold as much water as the red planet’s south pole”; Watters adds what every evolutionist must be thinking—“an icy equator would mean that ‘it is not impossible that [the plateaus] could harbor some form of life.’”

The idea of Martian life has invigorated discussions of extraterrestrial life for centuries. There’s certainly no indication that the lack of life found there so far has dampened evolutionists’ hopes that we will find it there some day. Of course, with each new, fevered claim that there could be life-harboring water on Mars—and with each quiet dismissal of such hypotheses—we grow increasingly confident that evolutionists are placing their faith at odds with all the evidence. It wouldn’t be the first time!

3. ScienceNOW: “Dark Matter Not a Done Deal?

Dark matter, a moderately evil-sounding, hypothesized component that is described as helping hold galaxies together, was all the rage just a few months ago. Now, a team of two astrophysicists is arguing that their modified theory of gravity explains the data and leaves no role for dark matter.

The initial justification for dark matter started some three-quarters of a century ago when CalTech astronomer Fritz Zwicky observed stars moving so fast that gravity shouldn’t have held them together. He postulated that an unseen amount of matter—“dark matter”—must be supplying extra gravitational force to rein in the star system. Similar observations have helped entrench the dark matter hypothesis in many astrophysicists’ minds—despite the fact that astrophysicists have not detected the dark matter itself.

Trying to explain the data without dark matter, astrophysicists John Moffat and Joel Brownstein of Canada’s Perimiter Institute for Theoretical Physics have published a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that argues that a modified theory of gravity, which they call MOG, sufficiently accounts for dark matter data. Modifying one of Einstein’s equations that describes how mass warps space and time, Moffat outlined how the effect of gravity may be more substantial in galactic scales than in smaller scales.

The scientists then inserted their MOG hypothesis into models of more than 100 galaxies and more than 100 star clusters. “[I]n all cases, it has successfully predicted their motions ‘without the necessity of adding dark matter,’” reports ScienceNOW.

Of course, the debate is far from over. While dark matter itself has little direct relevance to the account of origins in Genesis (that is, whether it exists or not is not delineated by the Bible), the dark matter hypothesis is substantially entwined in the big bang model—so much so that an open letter in the May 22, 2004, issue of New Scientist carried the following line:

The big bang today relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities, things that we have never observed—inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent examples. Without them, there would be a fatal contradiction between the observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang theory.1

The statement, penned by a letter-writing group of scientists (mostly secular) who challenge the big bang model, partially reveals how most astrophysical models are founded as much on speculation as on observation. Just as on planet earth, when we look to the skies, the evidence doesn’t itself tell us anything; it must be understood through an interpretive framework, such as Genesis or the big bang model (or a variety of other cosmological models). And often, the bold pronouncements of astrophysicists (and other scientists) are contradicted months or years later, as may be the case with dark matter.

4. ScienceDaily: “Ancient Seal Belonged To Queen Jezebel

An ancient seal discovered in 1964 has been confirmed as belonging to the notorious Queen Jezebel, according to an Old Testament scholar.

Marjo Korpel, an expert on the Old Testament at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, conducted a recent investigation into a seal dating back to the ninth century BC, concluding the seal belonged to King Ahab’s Phoenician wife Jezebel. The results were published in the Journal for Semitics.

The seal, which includes the engraved name yzbl in ancient Hebrew, was unearthed in Israel by Nahman Avigad in 1964. Although “initially assumed” to have belonged to Jezebel, researchers also considered the possibility that the seal belonged to a less famous Jezebel.

Korpel analyzed the symbols on the seal, concluding that the markings indicate not only a woman, but specifically a “royal female owner.” The seal’s exceptionally large size, atypical for the seals of commoners, also supports the Queen Jezebel hypothesis.

Korpel also showed that a broken-off fragment of the seal likely contained two letters that “point to Jezebel as owner and lead to a correct spelling of Jezebel’s name.”

Ironically, the Bible specifically refers to Jezebel’s use of her husband Ahab’s seal to forge letters (1 Kings 21:8). The ScienceDaily article acknowledges this and states: “Nonetheless, she now appears to have possessed her own seal, which enabled her to deal with matters independently of Ahab.” This is certainly not out of her character, both as described in the Bible and in this article with reference to two verses in 1 Kings.

Archeological finds, such as this one, can never independently confirm or deny the Bible’s authenticity; rather, they remind us that the Bible is not only accurate when it speaks of heavenly things; it is also accurate when it speaks of earthly things—as we pointed out in last week’s item #5.

5. New Scientist: “Tortoise Shapes Evolved to Avoid ‘Turning Turtle’

Everyone knows that tortoises aren’t exactly nature’s most agile creatures. The plodding manner of the reptiles is fabled, and we haven’t heard of any arrests for illegal tortoise fighting.

Despite their appearance, however, some species of tortoise have an intriguing mechanism for maintaining “balance” in the most extreme sense: shells that self-right the creature.

The star tortoise, for example, has “just one stable orientation, right side up. Put another way, a star tortoise placed on its back will automatically roll back onto its front, righting itself with little effort.” The star tortoise’s particularly large dome is one type of monostatic object, an object that “has only one stable way of resting on a horizontal surface.”

Monostatic objects are “incredibly rare” in nature, say researchers Gabor Domokos and Peter Varkonyi of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, who modeled various turtle and tortoise shells.

What an incredible design! When we appreciate both the design and the Designer, we are encouraged to study and learn more of nature, contrary to common claims that creationists are anti-science.

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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  1. Lerner, E. et al., “An Open Letter to the Scientific Community,” New Scientist 182 no. 2448 (2004): 20. Available online at Back