1. LiveScience: “Culture, Not Skulls, Gave Humans Edge Over Neanderthals”

It wasn’t skull differences—or any other biological difference—that ultimately separated “modern” humans and their supposedly different kin the Neanderthals, according to a recent anthropology study.

Instead, the study team claims that it must have been culture that caused Neanderthals to die out while other humans lived on, something evolutionists claim happened about 30,000 years ago.

The conclusion originates from a study the team conducted on Neanderthal skulls and the skulls of humans living today. The team compared various measurements, looking for signs of biological difference that might explain why Neanderthals didn’t keep up with the rest of us.

According to team member Tim Weaver, an anthropologist at the University of California–Davis, “[T]he differences between modern humans’ skulls and Neanderthals’ are not due to changes that increased people’s ability to survive and reproduce. . . . Whatever advantages humans had over Neanderthals didn’t have to do with the size and shape of the cranium.”

Or, as Clara Moskowitz puts it for LiveScience, “[M]ost variations [between humans living today and Neanderthals] are the result of random changes that occur over time, and not of adaptations driven by natural selection.” This goes against what may be considered prevailing wisdom that says modern humans “won out” over Neanderthals because of better hearing, vision, etc.—differences showing up in the skull.

This research doesn't settle the question of how we ended up in the here and now but Neanderthals didn’t, Weaver added, but the team does offer culture as an explanation. “One reason why modern humans might have been able to replace Neanderthals has to do with behavior. They gained new cultural abilities that allowed them to better exploit their environments and out-compete groups like Neanderthals.”

Interestingly enough, some researchers doubt that there was any fundamental difference between today’s humans and Neanderthals. Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist Erik Trinkaus says he has seen no evidence of any difference, either biological or sociocultural, between today’s humans and Neanderthals. His quote strongly supports the Bible-based view of anthropology (which we’ll come to in a moment):

“When we look at the archaeology, there’s essentially no difference in their implied social sophistication. They use the same kinds of tools, they’re all burying their dead, they’re all using body decorations of some form or another. They were equally effective at hunting animals. In anything that we can measure, there’s very little difference between Neanderthal and modern humans 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.”

Trinkaus suggests that what separated us may have been nothing more than a little luck!*

This news is strong support to the model of human origins and development Christian scientists have built when starting with the Bible. Let’s take a quick look at the bases of the model:

  • The Bible gives the origin of man as the creation of Adam (and Eve) approximately six thousand years ago. The Bible makes it clear that all humankind is descended from Adam (eventually through Noah), and that all are equally made in God’s image.
  • We find fossilized human remains around the globe, and while they range in size and there are minor morphological differences, they almost always match the skeletal diversity we see in humans today. For instance, the “hobbits” found in Indonesia seem small and malformed compared to most normal-sized humans today, but their size seems less atypical when compared to Pygmies living today, and skeletal deformities are easily explained by malnutrition and disease their environment would have hastened. Similarly, Neanderthals have fairly minor morphological differences—such as the infamous prominent brow ridge—that would have made them look different, but would not have influenced their status as intelligent humans made in God’s image.
  • We also find fossils of ape and ape-like creatures that are far more similar to today’s chimpanzees and whose status as upright walkers owes more to the imagination of evolutionists than to skeletal properties.

Whereas evolutionists must see a continuum of fossil hominids leading all the way back to an apelike ancestor, creationists can look at the obvious—that Neanderthals were like us in every fundamental way—and conclude the obvious—that Neanderthals were us; that is, what we call “Neanderthals” were just one of many equally “modern” variations of modern humans, like Pygmies today. We can even explain some of the skeletal deformities through such diseases as rickets. Other than that, however, behaving just as intelligently as other modern humans, they would have been virtually indistinguishable. As Prof. Trinkaus said, they used the same sort of tools, they buried their dead, and they were just as good at hunting. We also know that they used fire and created artwork.

Thus, this news reinforces the idea that all humans were and are descendants of Adam, made in the image of God, fully intelligent, and in need of a Savior.

* Of course, God was—and is!—in control; people don’t die because of “bad luck”!

2. ScienceNOW: “One Tail, Many Feats”

Regardless of the attention given to those clingy gecko feet, gecko tails play an important role in keeping the mobile little creatures agile.

A study of the biomechanics of geckos discovered that the animals use their tails for extra control when they slip or fall, helping them steer and move their weight as they climb or even glide.

Biomechanical scientist Robert Full of the University of California–Berkeley, who has studied how geckos get around for more than a decade, had previously conducted experiments to try to determine exactly what role the gecko tail plays. When running on high-traction surfaces, the geckos never used their tails.

But when engineers designed robotic “geckos” to climb walls, they were forced to add tails to keep the machines from tumbling. Full wondered if he had overlooked the role of the gecko tail, and set up experiments to re-examine it.

The team Full led “challenged” geckos with a track designed to make them slip. For instance, the researchers had their gecko examinees run up a vertical track that included a section of slippery whiteboard. ScienceNOW’s Elsa Youngsteadt explains, “When their front feet reached the slick spot, the geckos lost traction and began to tip away from the wall. That’s when the tail took over, making the lizard’s body act like a seesaw anchored at the hind legs.” In other words, as Full put it, the gecko tail is an “emergency fifth leg.”

The team also placed the geckos upside-down on the bottom of a platform that “jiggled like a quaking leaf.” Unsurprisingly, the geckos lost their grip, yet in less than a tenth of a second of falling to the floor, they were universally able to rotate to land on all fours. How? Full says the lizards swept their tails around swiftly to rotate their bodies into “superman” or “skydiving” posture, allowing them to land on all fours. This gave Full’s team yet another idea: were the geckos able to control themselves in the air and “glide”?

To answer the new question, the team put the geckos in a vertical wind tunnel. Most animals that can’t fly would have just tumbled around out of control, but the geckos glided neatly, turning and waving their tails to steer and keep themselves upright. Apparently there’s far more to the gecko than meets the eye!

Full says learning more about geckos’ tails may bring improvements to both aircraft and spacesuit design, in addition to helping engineers perfect the gecko-imitating wall robots. Biophysicist Kellar Autumn of Lewis and Clark College, calling the research an interdisciplinary success story, adds, “Who knew a gecko could someday help us make better robots or maneuver ourselves in outer space?”

And of course, while evolutionists have no choice but to chalk this incredible design up to the blind watchmaker of evolution, creationists see that this is just one of the millions of signs of God’s brilliant handiwork in nature.

For more information:

3. National Geographic News: “Workers Uncovering Mummified Dinosaur”

A “mummified” dinosaur found in North Dakota in 1999 is finally escaping its sandstone tomb, thanks to tiny brushes and chisels (and their handlers) at the North Dakota Heritage Center.

The dinosaur, an Edmontosaurus named Dakota, is notable because its skin has been fossilized, generally a rarity in fossils. This has led researchers to a conclusion that sounds strangely familiar, as the National Geographic News story by Blake Nicholson reports:

Animal tissue typically decomposes quickly after death. Researchers say Dakota must have been buried rapidly and in just the right environment for the skin to be preserved.

“The process of decay was overtaken by that of fossilization, preserving many of the soft-tissue structures,” explained Manchester University paleontologist Phillip Manning, a member of the team investigating Dakota.

Rapid burial—just the sort we would expect from a global Flood, perhaps? For our full take on this find, read our coverage in this week’s Dino Age Is Only Skin Deep.

4. ABC News Nightline: “Touring with the Bible”

Bill Jack, a worldview expert who is a close friend of Answers in Genesis, went under the camera last night on a Brian Rooney-hosted Nightline exposé attempt on creationist tours of secular museums.

Jack, faculty advisor for Worldview Academy, is in videos such as Artificial Authority and Demolishing Strongholds.

The segment, just under ten minutes long, followed a tour at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where Jack and associate Rusty Carter presented a biblical analysis of origins science to a large homeschooling group. A good portion of the segment is standard secular fare that will merely bore those of us who have “heard it all before” (for example, contrasting the Bible’s age for the earth with the age “science” [no qualifying adjective] gives). However, we thought we would quickly overview some of the interesting spots.

Unsurprisingly, one of the points Nightline attacks is the idea that certain dinosaurs, “with those enormous ripping teeth,” were originally created to eat plants. Focusing on Bill Jack’s humorous answer (that T. rex would have had to fast and pray for the Fall to overcome his hunger), the program ignores such research as How Did Defense/Attack Structures Come About? and Creation’s original diet and the changes at the Fall.

Most frustrating is a section examining the timeline Jack and Carter reference for pre-Flood humankind. Alleging that it is “pretty hazy,” Rooney stumbles severely on what should be easy math (ironically, it is during his attempt to expose what an animation labels “biblically correct math”). Here is a short transcription of the scene:

ROONEY [voiceover leading into interview segment]: Their timeline for their 6,000-year history is a little hazy.
CARTER: Before the flood, there was a period there in which we believe people lived to be 800, 900 years old, almost 1,000 years old.
ROONEY: So how long was that, how many generations of 800-year-old people did we have?
JACK: I haven’t thought of that.
CARTER: Without doing the math, I think there’s about six or seven [cut off by Rooney’s voiceover].
ROONEY: In doing the math, that would take about 5,600 hundred years during which people lived roughly eight hundred years. [The “biblically correct math” animation multiples 800 (years) by 7 (generations), arriving at 5,600 years, far more than what the Bible allows between creation and the Flood.]

The problem, of course, is that generations overlap; for example, if a man who lived to be a hundred fathered a child at age twenty who also lived to be a hundred, they would together only span 120 years, not 200. Apparently Rooney or his researchers were so eager to ridicule the creationists that this otherwise easy concept was lost on them.

The program also shows Jack pointing out how many museum exhibits are largely artist’s renditions of supposedly prehistoric scenes rather than objective science without any interpretive layer.

Another frustrating scene begins when Jack gives—on a children’s level—an overview of how paleontologists and geologists use circular thinking to establish dates for fossils and rock layers. However, Rooney attacks Jack and Carter for “turning their backs,” literally, on radiometric dating. “We can’t cover everything,” Jack protests, to which Rooney responds, “That is the basis for how they judge how old things are.” Jack doesn’t balk, however, and responds accordingly and accurately: “All dating methods are based on assumptions.”

Yet immediately following Jack’s protest that dating methods are based on assumptions, Rooney carries instead this allegation to the Denver Museum curator Kirk Johnson: “They just dismiss it. They say, well, it’s not very accurate.” Johnson responds, “They have no clue how accurate it is,” apparently stereotyping either all creationists or simply Jack and Carter as ignorant.

Most of the rest is stock creation-versus-evolution debate material and presuppositional concepts misunderstood or ignored by Rooney and Johnson. One disappointing moment is that Jack does not take Rooney to task when he asks why human and dinosaur fossils aren’t found in the same sedimentary layers. Jack labels it as “one of the problems for creationists,” perhaps pointing out after that brief video clip that both creationists and evolutionists have such “problems.” Even so, there are good answers to this question that we hope some viewers will eventually hear (e.g., read Why Don’t We Find Human & Dinosaur Fossils Together?).

We are always saddened to see media outlets “get it wrong” and do a poor job hiding their biases, but regardless we thank God for every opportunity to get the creation/gospel message out to the culture! We pray that God will use this even in the minds of those that ridicule to ultimately lead them to the truths of His Word.

5. Los Angeles Times: Obituary: “Arthur C. Clarke, 90; scientific visionary, acclaimed writer of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’”

British-born science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, famous for more than a half-century of writing, died this week at the age of ninety in Colombo, Sri Lanka, after experiencing a cardio-respiratory attack.

Clarke, the key mind behind 2001: A Space Odyssey, foretold many of the innovations we enjoy today, from space stations and moon landings to cell phones and the Internet. Clarke is often referred to as one of the preeminent, if not the preeminent, science fiction author of the twentieth century.

Interestingly, Clarke’s worldview can partially be ascertained by the three wishes he listed on his ninetieth birthday, which was last December, the Times reports: “to embrace cleaner energy resources, for a lasting peace in his homeland of Sri Lanka, which has been beset by civil strife for decades, and for evidence of extraterrestrial beings.”

For a full review of 2001: A Space Odyssey (a Stanley Kubrik film based on a screenplay he and Clarke wrote), see 2001: A Space ‘Oddity,’ Part 1 and Part 2.

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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