1. Templeton Award-winner Denies Intelligent Design

The 2008 Templeton Prize, a $1.6 million (£820,000) award for “discoveries about spiritual realities,” is going to a Roman Catholic priest who denies intelligent design.

Michael Heller, a priest and professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in his native Poland, was announced the winner of the prize this week in recognition of his work on the theological and scientific origin of the universe.

But while you might expect such an individual to endorse intelligent design if not biblical creation, Heller has done nothing of the sort. Rather, he accuses intelligent design advocates of having committed a “grave theological error.” Take a look at Templeton Award-winner Denies Intelligent Design and decide whether this priest has really made an important discovery about spiritual realities.

2. National Geographic News: “Ancient Bones of Small Humans Discovered in Palau”

“Thousands” of human bones have been unearthed on the Pacific island Palau, reports National Geographic News. The bones belonged to “numerous individuals,” some of whom were “of particularly small size.” More hobbits, perhaps?

The remains date from less than a millennium ago to almost a millennium BC and “align with Homo sapiens,” reports a paper on the discovery published in PLoS One.

As for the distribution of the remains, the National Geographic News story explains,

Two sets of human bones were found in the Palauan caves. The most recent remains were found near the entrance to one of the caves and appear normal in size. Older bones found deeper in the caves are stranger and much smaller.

The “stranger” bones “exhibit several traits considered primitive, or archaic, for the human lineage.” In addition, they are from people who were only 3 to 4 feet (94–120cm) tall and weighed between 70 and 90 pounds (32–41 kg). This has of course prompted comparisons to the “hobbits” discovered in Indonesia in 2003 (see The Return of the Hobbits)—though the estimated size of these hobbits’ brains is twice that of the Indonesian hobbits.

Paleoanthropologists are also leaning toward the Homo sapiens classification for these bones, based especially on the shape of the face and the hips. Yet the humans had some abnormalities: lack of chins, deep jaws, large teeth, and small eye sockets, in addition to their tiny size.

Here’s where it gets interesting: some of these same abnormal features were reasons why the hobbits from Indonesia were classified as a unique and “archaic” species, the article reports. (See The Return of the Hobbits for a background of the hobbits and the previous twist, which was hot news just last week.)

The National Geographic News article explains, “[T]he Palauan remains suggest these features may just be a consequence of insular dwarfism, a shrinking process that some scientists attribute to the stresses of a small island environment.” The article adds that fishing probably began on the island about the same time the oldest of the larger human bones are from, buttressing the claim that poor nutrition, along with the climate, absence of predators, small population, and genetics, was responsible for strange skeletons of the earlier occupants.

Disease is also still frequently mentioned as an explanation for some of the abnormalities of the Indonesian hobbits—in particular, microcephaly, a disease that causes small brains and other abnormalities.

As Peter Galling wrote in “The Return of the Hobbits”:

Starting with the biblical worldview, it becomes clear that the hominid fossils we unearth are—time and time again—either slight variations of modern humans (such as Neanderthals who hunted, used tools, made art and fire, and buried their dead) or simply extinct apes (such as australopithecines, who would look to any modern observer like another type of chimpanzee).

There is ample evidence that the hobbits on both Palau and on the Indonesian island of Flores are, while small, nonetheless completely human, and deformities can be explained by genetic and environmental factors we are well aware of. For now, though, the debate over the hobbits will likely rage on.

3. AP: “Indian DNA Links to 6 ‘Founding Mothers’”

Nearly all Native Americans—including those in North, Central, and South America—have descended (in part) from just six women, says a new DNA study published this week in PLoS One.

Although this doesn’t mean Native Americans descended from only these six women, it does confirm previous studies that indicated six maternal lineages based on mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited solely from the mother. Using mitochondrial DNA, researchers created a partial family tree, noting mutations in each branch and estimating, based on uniformitarian assumptions, the length of time since the mitochondrial DNA indicated a single person (the female forebear).

Since their DNA signatures are not found in Asians, the team also concluded the “founding mothers” were probably from the area of the Bering Strait, location of a land or ice bridge where the first Americans migrated from Asia to Alaska.

As for the “when,” the team estimated the women lived between 18,000 and 21,000 years ago (not necessarily all at the same time). This is based on the assumption that today’s rate of mutations in mitochondrial DNA can be extrapolated back into the past. However, this is just an assumption based on the doctrine of uniformitarianism (that is, that the rates of change we observe in nature today are roughly the same as for all of time).

Regarding the dating, University of Florida anthropologist Connie Mulligan, who wasn’t involved in the study, tells the Associated Press that:

The estimate for when the women lived is open to question because it's not clear whether the researchers properly accounted for differing mutation rates in mitochondrial DNA, she said. Further work could change the estimate, “possibly dramatically,” she said.

Since the Bible tells us that the migration to the Americas could have only taken place after Babel, about 2250 BC (according to Ussher’s chronology), these six women could not have lived more than about 4,000 years ago. These women, along with others, were part of the group that, leaving Babel, eventually made its way onto the North American continent and populated the Americas. From a small population came Native Americans, just as that small population can be traced back to another small population—the three sons of Noah and their wives, who repopulated the earth after the Flood.

4. PhysOrg: “Mystery Behind the Strongest Creature in the World”

The Hercules beetle, the strongest animal in the world, is not only renowned for its strength; it also employs a shell that changes colors in response to ambient humidity.

Able to carry up to 850 times its weight, the beetle is protected by an exoskeleton that changes from green to black as humidity increases. Researchers from Belgium’s University of Namur, publishing in the New Journal of Physics, report on how their study of this color-changing exterior could result in the design of more “intelligent materials” for use in human applications.

The team used a scanning electronic microscope and a spectrophotometer to better understand how light interacts with the beetle’s porous protective casing. In low humidity, the light interferes with the exoskeleton structure, resulting in a green color. Then, rising humidity penetrates the porous layers, putting an end to the interference and leaving simply a black color.

In addition to offering an opportunity for the team to test new scanning techniques for electron images, the study concluded that the humidity-sensing architecture of the beetle’s shell could eventually be used in “intelligent materials” that will monitor levels of moisture. Once again, scientists are intrigued by one of God’s designs found in nature that, even with all our technology, is more amazing than anything we could produce. It’s fascinating to consider how numerous features of each organism—even down to individual cells’ ability to function—defy explanation by natural selection and cry out, “Design!”

As for why the Hercules beetle changes colors, two popular theories are that either the color change is a form of camouflage, or the color change improves warmth absorption at night. For now, though, the reason for this incredible feature remains a mystery to all but God.

For more information:

5. A Meeting of Minds

It’s just over a month away from the opening of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed in movie theaters across America, and AiG–U.S. president Ken Ham recently had the opportunity to chat with Expelled host Ben Stein.

Stein joined the National Religious Broadcasters’ annual conference for a preview showing of Expelled, but first he spent about fifteen minutes chatting with Ham before the film began. Stein even commented on AiG’s “wonderful” Creation Museum, saying he hoped to visit it one day.

Praising the movie, Ham said, “I urge everyone not to miss Expelled. I found it riveting, eye-opening, even astonishing. Ben Stein does a masterful job of exposing the ruthlessness of evolutionists who will go after anyone who challenges or merely questions Darwinian orthodoxy. I was on the edge of my seat—entertained yet instructed.”

Ham concluded, “This movie is a must-see. Congratulations to Ben and the producers for the courage to create a much-needed perspective on the erosion of freedoms in America.”

For more information:

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