1. National Geographic News: “Building Blocks of Life Detected in Distant Galaxy”

The indication of the presence of an amino acid “precursor” in a distant galaxy is the latest “evidence” that life can spring up wherever, according to research conducted using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The actual discovery was of methanimine, which “can form the simplest amino acid, glycine, when it reacts with either hydrogen cyanide and then water, or formic acid,” according to National Geographic News. Evidence of hydrogen cyanide has also been found in the galaxy, along with “possibly” evidence of formic acid.

The chemicals are in distant galaxy Arp 220, believed to have undergone a “recent merger” and thus is thought to be home to a star nursery. The team thinks conditions now are too violent to let life flourish even with the (possible) existence of an amino acid, but speculates that once the violence dies down, life could bloom.

“The fact that we can observe these substances at such a vast distance means that there are huge amounts of them in Arp 220,” said former Arecibo astronomer Emmanuel Momjian. Methanimine has been detected in our galaxy and “tentatively” in nearby galaxy NGC 253, but in no others so far.

However, glycine, the amino acid methanimine can help create, has not been found in the galaxy, despite its “telltale chemistry.”

Unsurprisingly, the astronomers who made the discovery are quite exuberant over the find, despite the fact that it ultimately reminds us of the lack of evidence we actually do have for life’s supposed abiotic origins and how huge the gaps really are.

First of all, it’s important to remember that the astronomers aren’t able to extend a robotic arm to Arp 220—which is 250 million light-years away (that’s 1.5 x 1021 miles or 2.4 x 1021 kilometers!)—and retrieve an actual sample of the “stuff” in this huge galaxy; rather, the analysis is from the “spectral line” resulting from the absorption and emission of various compounds in the galaxy as the radio telescope examines it.

Second of all, finding this precursor to the simplest amino acid is like finding a hunk of aluminum ore in a garage and expecting it to refine and shape itself into a car! The obstacles for an abiotic origin of life are not limited to simply having the right chemicals lying around (which, we emphasize, is not even what has been found in Arp 220!).

Regardless, it’s no surprise that—for those who believe we must have evolved from primordial slime—the “sight” of any proto-organic substances in a distant galaxy inspire hopes for more research. Sadly, it seems they find just enough to “string them along” with the belief that life’s origin was as simple as the chance occurrence of the right chemicals in the right place at the right time.

The research has been submitted for publication in Astrophysical Journal.

2. ScienceNOW: “Team Uncovers New Evidence of Recent Human Evolution”

A spate of recent genomic changes is responsible for today’s variance in human skin color, stature, and other traits, reports ScienceNOW on new research published in Nature Genetics.

The team, which was led by population geneticist Lluis Quintana-Murci of the Pasteur Institute and the Centre National de le Recherche Scientifique in Paris, analyzed the DNA of 210 individuals, looking for variations in human genes that cause disease. They then statistically sorted and compared single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) between individuals and found that “some mutations occurred at such high frequencies compared to other SNPs in the same populations that they must have improved survival and reproductive success and been the result of strong positive selection pressure.”

Because the SNPs varied “tremendously” between populations, anthropologists believe this “accelerated evolution” happened in the past 100,000 years as humans spread across the globe and adapted to new environments. These adaptations include the selection of genes for certain skin color and certain stature, as well as genes that protect against various diseases. The team identified 582 such genes that have evolved differently in separate populations (though the result of the change is only known for about 50 of these differences).

This research makes complete sense in light of the Genesis account of man’s creation and post-catastrophic confusion and dispersion from Babel around the world. Of course, this isn’t “evolution,” since no new information is created during such “adaptation”; rather, genetic information is lost as, for example, light-skinned individuals would have died out more easily due to skin cancer in central Africa (especially when life required regular outdoor work), and their genetic information would have likewise “died out.”

Furthermore, the evolutionary model for the speed of human evolution is influenced by the anthropological timeline they have established of humankind covering the earth over the past hundred millennia, as opposed to the creationist model of humans covering the earth in the past few thousand years since the flood of Noah.

Nonetheless, this research reminds us how, after the dispersion at Babel, various people groups (and sub-groups) spread out across the globe, losing and concentrating genetic information but resulting in the variation we see today.

3. Scientific American: “Running Dialog: New Languages Rapidly Spring from Old Ones”

New research on the “evolution” of language supports the Bible’s description of all languages having appeared recently.

Researchers reporting in this week’s issue of the journal Science undertook a study to examine how long it takes for new vocabularies to enter languages as they spin off from one another.

According to the research, which focused on three of the world’s major language families (Bantu, Indo-European, and Austronesian), there is a burst of vocabulary alterations when languages split, but the burst then dissipates into gradual changes that build up over time. According to the researchers, this resembles genetic evolution.

“It was very natural for us to wonder if a similar process [of evolution] happens in cultural groups,” team member Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist, said. “We treat the words that different languages use almost identically to the way we use genes: . . . [t]he more divergent two species are, the less their genes have in common, just as the more divergent two languages are, the less their words have in common.”

The study estimated, using language “genealogy trees,” that between a tenth and a third of language divergence results from vocabulary changes shortly after the languages split.

Pagel cited the rapid rise of American English and the later rise of black American English as examples of the team’s hypothesis.

Certainly, language families arose rapidly—instantaneously, in fact—when God confused human language at Babel. From that initial fracture have come the multitude of languages and dialects we hear today, in addition to the numerous languages now extinct. Applying this team’s identity-based theory of language divergence, we can imagine how, as the various people groups began departing (except for a few) from Babel itself, sub-groups would rise up and rapidly develop their own culture and languages, likely leading to nearly as many languages a few thousand years ago as there are today. In the few thousands of years since, languages—even within families—would have slowly worked out differing grammars, idioms, and pronunciations, resulting in the breadth of language we know now.

4. PhysOrg: “Case Builds for Water on Saturn Moon”

Piggybacking on our first story of the week is news of a German team that has more evidence that there is water on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Enceladus’s icy shell is interrupted by “strange-looking grooves” and craters, and NASA’s Cassini probe showed water vapor plumes that shoot out (in crystal form) into space from Enceladus’s south pole. However, the dust shot out by these “cryo-volcanoes” travels more slowly than the ice crystals.

The new hypothesis, which appears in Nature: the water vapor and ice grains spring forth through tunnels; the heavier ice grains rub against the side of the tunnels (carrying dust), slowing down and therefore traveling shorter distances once ejected.

According to the model at the center of the hypothesis, this means liquid water must exist in equilibrium with ice and vapor in Enceladus’s crust, even though the surface temperature of the moon is -315˚F (-193˚C)!

The press release explains, “Heat and water are two of the essentials for life as we know it, although anything that exists in Enceladus's presumed sub-surface ocean is likely to be microbial at best.” This once again reflects secular astronomers’ attitude that finding simply one organic molecule or (in this case) finding the possibility of liquid water somehow seems to indicate that life could exist. Furthermore, the idea that Enceladus is warm enough on the inside to sustain liquid water is speculation based on the model.

Thus, even if we bypass the speculation and granted Enceladus a balmy, watery interior, there is no evidence that even in such an environment—even if organic chemicals were poured into such an environment all day long—that life would magically spring forth. Thus, when it comes to the story of life appearing on earth, you either have to have faith that it was divinely created or have faith that it “magically” appeared despite our failure to have ever observed such an event in the lab or in the stars.

5. ScienceDaily: “Some 'Junk' DNA Is Important Guide For Nerve-cell Channel Production”

Another important role has been discovered for so-called “junk” DNA, mysterious sections of the human genome once considered useless.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have determined that introns associated with RNA play an important part in making electrical channels for nerve cells, helping neuronal communication. Abnormalities in these channels can result in epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases, cognitive disorders, and other problems.

Introns were previously thought of as useless DNA (hence the “junk” appellation), but we’re realizing more and more that these sequences are meaningful and perform necessary tasks. The introns examined by the Penn researchers, led by pharmacology professor James Eberwine, have found “that an RNA encoding for a nerve-cell electrical channel, called the BK channel, contains an intron that is present outside the nucleus.” Without the intron, the BK channels would not be created in the appropriate location within the cell.

Tests that removed the introns resulted in cells with abnormal electrical properties. “This is the first evidence that an intron-containing RNA outside of the nucleus serves a critical cellular function,” said Eberwine. “The intron acts like a guide or gatekeeper. . . . Just because the intron is not in the final channel protein doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an important purpose.”

Since such junk DNA was originally construed as the “leftovers” of evolution—genetic fossils that served no valid purpose—each discovery of a function for junk DNA both counts as a strike against the evolutionary story of origins (which predicts such non-coding regions) and another sign of the wisdom and detailed design blueprint of our Creator.

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