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1. ScienceNOW: “New Ape Fossils Found in Africa

A new fossil found in Kenya’s Rift Valley is shaking up the latest hypotheses about alleged ancient apes and their postulated connection to modern humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas.

Kyoto University paleoanthropologist Yutaka Kunimatsu and colleagues found the fossil in 2005 in Nakali, Kenya. Based on the fossil, they have hypothesized a new ape, Nakalipithecus nakayamai, thought to have lived nearly 10 million years ago.

Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors argue the find challenges an existing theory that “apes in Africa died out millions of years ago only to be replaced by other apes that had migrated to Europe and Asia and then returned.” Interestingly, it was a “paucity of data” that engendered the older theory, as the ScienceNOW article explains (quoting at length):

The ancestors of humans and chimpanzees split about 5 million to 7 million years ago … . Verifying that date in the fossil record has been difficult, however, because the trail of old bones for apes goes cold in Africa right at the time when the African apes were diverging 7 million to 12 million years ago … . Given the paucity of data, some researchers have proposed that apes originated in Africa but went extinct there. According to the theory, today's African apes descended instead from those that migrated to Europe or Asia and eventually wandered
back to Africa.

The discovery by Kunimatsu, et al., along with a nearby discovery dubbed Samburupithecus kiptalami and an Ethiopian find named Chororapithecus abyssinicus, “[show] that there were two different large hominoids even within a very narrow range of time and space,” reports Kunimatsu, suggesting apes never migrated out of Africa completely.

What you’ve just read is the evolutionary interpretation of the discovery. Now for the creationist response.

First of all, although the ScienceNOW article does not obscure the fact, there’s no discussion of the fact that the fossil used as the basis of Nakalipithecus nakayamai is nothing more than “the partial lower jaw and 11 teeth of [the] ape.” For the evolutionist, major doctrines of human origins are based on hypothesized ape species, themselves based on often meager fossil remains. The australopithecine Lucy, for instance, despite all the fanciful artists’ interpretations, is only a partial skeleton. Obviously, the smaller the fossil remains, the more prominent the factors of interpretation and presumption play into the fossil classification. But then again, it’s no wonder that amid a “paucity of data,” evolutionists are grasping at straws—er, jawbones—to form theories.

Second, the researchers consider the new fossil find “a close relative of the last common ancestor of humans, chimps, and gorillas.” If you’re a believer in evolution, though, then all of earth’s life—including all living species along with the fossils we find—is part of one large evolutionary tree; everything must fit in somewhere. Evolutionists use the system of cladistics to classify species into hypothesized evolutionary relationships (different branches of the tree, that is); for a species to be considered a relative of a (distant) “last common ancestor” of humans, chimps, and gorillas does not indicate that its role in the evolutionary tree is clear; rather, what is clear is that the species is simply dissimilar enough to humans, chimps, and gorillas to fall into those groupings. The creationist view is that—if the jawbone alone is sufficient for classification—the species is simply a unique type of primate.

2. National Geographic News: “Alien Life Can Survive Trip to Earth, Space Test Shows

Men (and women) are from Mars—though the popular tongue-in-cheek hypothesis lacks proof, it received an injection of plausibility in September from a baseball-sized rock that fell from the sky.

Conveniently, the rock was attached to the exterior of the European Space Agency’s Foton M3 spacecraft and “fell” from the sky in an expected descent. The rock contained fossilized microbes and the molecular signatures of microbes intended to determine whether biological material could survive a meteoric journey to Earth through the vacuum of space and atmospheric reentry. The spacecraft orbited Earth for 12 days and landed in Kazakhstan on September 26.

Some biological compounds on the rock survived the experience, according to the University of Aberdeen’s John Parnell, who led the project. This suggests that “it’s possible simple organisms could arrive via meteorites.” The test was part of the ESA’s STONE program, which studies the effects of atmospheric reentry using artificial meteorites.

“We wanted to see if a rock that was rich in carbon and water would suffer a lot of mass loss,” Parnell said. “That was certainly the case. About three-quarters of the mass of our sample disappeared.” However, since microbes can live deep inside rocks, Parnell believes such a meteorite could have ferried life from elsewhere in the solar system—most likely Mars—to Earth. However, Parnell explained that living microbes “probably wouldn’t have survived in a meteorite this size” because temperatures rose to about about 392˚ F (200˚ C).

STONE scientist Charles Cockell of the Open University makes clear the question on everyone’s mind: “Of course, at the moment we don’t know of life on another planet, but this experiment is an intriguing test of an interplanetary version of an old ecological question,” he said, referring to continent-hopping biota on Earth.

Senior scientist David Morrison of the NASA Astrobiology Institute adds that regardless of whether life has been transported in this manner, “we should be open to the possibility that there is microbial life on Mars that shares a common ancestor with Earth life. It may not be likely, but we cannot exclude the possibility that we are, in effect, all Martians.”

The increasing trend of looking off-Earth for life’s origin reflects the problems with current origin of life models. Maybe it didn’t originate here, some theorize, but maybe it evolved elsewhere and ended up here somehow. Evolutionary opponents of this theory, called panspermia, point out that moving the origin of life off-world does nothing to answer the difficult questions of how life would have evolved from primordial goo.

Also interesting is Morrison’s attitude toward the possibility of Martian origins: noting that we must consider it because we cannot exclude its possibility (even in spite of finding no direct evidence for such a hypothesis). But we wonder how many individuals reject special creation because they have faith in the “possibility” of an evolutionary just-so story about the origin of life—here or elsewhere in the universe!

3. New York Times: “Battlefield Report From the Evolution War

Television producer Paula Aspell—behind Public Television’s popular Nova program—originally had no desire to use her show to deal with the “nasty” controversy of discussing intelligent design in public schools.

That was before Aspell read news accounts of the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial of Pennsylvania and recalled that many Americans reject the evolutionary explanation of human origins. “As someone concerned about science literacy, that concerns me—a lot,” she said, reports the New York Times.

Finding “plenty of drama” in various aspects of the trial, Aspell set out to film a two-hour Nova segment that “takes viewers through the trial, illuminating the theory of evolution, the flaws of intelligent design, the politics of those who back it, and the course the case ran in Dover.”

This week, AiG’s Mark Looy and Liberty University’s David DeWitt took a closer look at the resulting documentary, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, uncovering the substantial bias in the program. To read their take, visit “Is It Over After Dover?” and “Biased Judgment: Comments on NOVA TV’s Judgment Day and its analysis of the Dover ID Trial.”

4. LiveScience: “After 250 Years of Classifying Life, 90 Percent Remains Unknown

Despite centuries of scientific effort classifying life, the vast majority of living things remain unknown, reports LiveScience on comments made by renowned Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson.

Speaking at the New York Botanical Garden, Wilson discussed Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus’s book Systema Naturae, a 1735 proposal for a system of classifying plants, animals and minerals. This year is the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus’s birth.

Linnaeus’s efforts helped kick off the scientific attempt to categorize all living things—an attempt that may have uncovered as few as 10 percent of the earth’s current species, according to Wilson.

“We live, in short, on a little-known planet. When dealing with the living world, we are flying mostly blind,” Wilson explained. As an example he cited experts’ predictions of the actual number of roundworms , thought to possibly number millions of species—even though “only” about 16,000 are actually known.

Part of Wilson’s lecture focused on the Encyclopedia of Life project, an attempt to finally map the entirety of Earth’s diverse biological universe. “In short, it aims to undergird a unified biology which I believe will be the great achievement of the 21st century, the age of synthesis that we have now entered,” explained Wilson.

Linnaeus’s hierarchical system of classification and naming is the origin of the familiar genus/species designation regime, whereby scientists refer to, e.g., an American robin as Turdus migratorius.

Of Linnaeus, evolutionist Wilson complimented that it was he “who led the way in the systematic exploration of life on this planet, which we must now, for the good of the planet and humanity, hurry up to finish.”

Just one last thing that LiveScience—and presumably Wilson—neglected to mention: Linnaeus was a dedicated creationist, and his idea of classifying life was in part an outgrowth of his creationist beliefs.

5. LiveScience: “Scientists Claim to Clone Monkey Embryos

It’s what we’ve all been waiting for, and just in time for gift-giving season: cloned monkey embryos!

While the research has yet to be published, a presentation by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon National Primate Research Center is starting to turn heads.

At a conference in Australia earlier this year, Mitalipov described his success at cloning monkey embryos and extracting stem cells from them. The success is seen as a milestone on the way to “doing the same thing in people.”

The LiveScience article on the breakthrough describes the procedure:

In cloning to obtain stem cells, DNA from an adult animal is inserted into an unfertilized egg. The egg is grown into an early embryo, from which stem cells are extracted. These stem cells, and the tissue that develops from them, will be a genetic match to the source of the DNA.

Even if Mitalipov’s research was a success, the results are still far from translatable in humans. Nevertheless, the controversy over cloning will increase as the prospect of cloning a human (to produce stem cells or offspring, although Cibelli said, “we’re all opposed to that”) comes closer to reality.

The issues of cloning and stem cell research are complicated, both because of the moral and ethical decisions involved and because of the complex (and often misunderstood) science behind the procedures. For example, whereas the simple phrase “stem cells” almost immediately sparks controversy, it is specifically the harvesting of embryonic stem cells that is in question (not adult stem cells).

Mitalipov’s research will be released soon in the journal Nature according to the Oregon Health & Science University, which operates the center where Mitalipov works.

6. BBC News: “Bat techniques could find tumours

The latest cancer-fighting technology, under development in Scotland, has been inspired by a source you might not expect: bat sonar.

A team at the University of Strathclyde is “developing a diagnostic device that employs the same technique used by some animals to recogni[z]e objects.”

Essentially, the device is an ultrasound that functions similarly to bats’ sophisticated sonar system, custom-creating different “acoustic codes” for “a wide variety of targets, including cancer cells.”

If successful, the technology could even be adapted for military uses, such as minesweeping.

News to Note frequently includes stories of animal (and sometimes plant) abilities that fuel scientists’ and engineers’ imaginations, leading to technological breakthroughs. For the evolutionist, these abilities all have the same origin: random mutations shaped through the mechanism of natural selection. For creationists, these abilities all have the same origin: information “pre-loaded” into an organism when it was designed by the master Designer.

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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