1. The (London) Times: “We Have Created Human-Animal Embryos Already, Say British Team”

It’s no April Fools’ joke: British scientists have created embryos that combine human and bovine elements.

A team at Newcastle University added human DNA to empty cow eggs, ostensibly as part of the effort to produce “powerful stem-cell models for investigating diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes, and for developing new drugs.”

Known properly as “cytoplasmic hybrids” (or “cybrids”), the DNA in the embryos was overwhelmingly human, yet the human DNA was telling a cow cell how to develop. The situation might be very roughly likened to placing a tractor motor in an automobile, or installing a computer operating system in a microwave.

Confirming the unnaturalness of the project, the cybrids lived only three days, though one of the eggs divided enough to yield 32 cells. The scientists reportedly want to grow the embryos for six days, then extract embryonic stem cells for research. Eventually, the goal is to put the DNA of patients with genetic diseases into cybrids to “be used as models of those diseases to provide insights into their progress and to test new treatments.” British law makes it illegal to culture cybrids for more than two weeks or to implant them in a woman or animal, though the very wording of the restriction sends shivers up one’s spine.

Motivating the use of animal eggs is a shortage of human eggs, due to the “ethical difficulties” in collecting human eggs for research and the small risk to women who donate eggs. One wonders why the euphemistic “ethical difficulties” are ignored in the case of the cybrids, however.

Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brian labeled the work as “experiments of Frankenstein proportion,” and we agree with the characterization. While we are not opposed to medical research to fight disease, there is a definite line one must draw in determining what research is ethical. The destruction of embryos, whether completely human or “partially” human (again, the idea seems frightening) is antibiblical and represents a debasing of the value of life and respect for the unborn. Furthermore, promising stem cell research is being conducted that does not use or destroy embryos. The cybrid initiative seems not only immoral, but also unnecessary.

2. The (London) Times: “Clay Tablet Identified as Asteroid that Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah”

An ancient clay tablet may describe an eyewitness account of an asteroid impact—an impact said to have inspired the biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The clay tablet, found at Nineveh a century and a half ago, features cuneiform symbols that were finally deciphered by researchers at Bristol University. About half of the symbols on the tablet have not survived, however.

The symbols are thought to be a copy made in 700 BC of the notes of a Sumerian astronomer who was watching the night sky thousands of years earlier. That astronomer referred to something in the sky as a “white stone bowl approaching” that “vigorously swept along.” Based on this crude description, the team concluded the asteroid likely crashed in the Austrian Alps with a “cataclysmic impact” equivalent to more than 1,100 tons (1,000 tonnes) of TNT.

The Bristol team ran the star descriptions on the tablet through a computer recreation of the night sky and learned the stars represent a view before dawn on June 29 of 3123 BC. (Details on this aspect of the research were not listed in the Times story.)

The researchers allege that there are “at least 20 ancient myths” (the Times’s wording) that record devastation “of the type and on the scale” of the asteroid’s impact—including, they say, the account in Genesis of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Let’s take a look at Genesis 19:23–29:

The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar. Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace. And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt.

Before we go too far analyzing this news, let’s remember that half of the writing on this tablet did not survive. It is also questionable whether the researchers were able to pull such exact information on the asteroid from the tablet; instead, it seems they may be trying to link up the asteroid with a known landslide whose geological results have been detected near Köfels, Austria (though that landslide has been dated by others to 7800 BC; it certainly sounds like a stretch either way).

But according to Ussher’s chronology, Abraham lived in the early second millennium BC, from 1996 BC to about sometime in the 1800s BC. According to the Bible’s account of Abraham, the incidents at Sodom and Gomorrah happened before the birth of Isaac but after Abraham left Ur, and thus the destruction of those cities occurred in the latter half of the twentieth century BC (the late 1900s). Furthermore, 3123 would have been well before the Flood of Noah’s Day, so unless the original account this tablet was copied from was carried on board the Ark, it would not have survived to be copied in 700 BC.

In other words, this tablet could not be as old as the team says it is, nor could an asteroid in 3123 BC have had anything to do with Sodom and Gomorrah. It is possible—as in, the Bible’s text does not preclude it—that God used such natural objects as meteors or an asteroid in the process of destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, so long as sulfur was involved in the conflagration. (In the same way, the Flood was a “natural” catastrophe—involving real water, real rain, real geological and likely volcanic activity—that was triggered by supernatural forces.) Yet finding how natural forces were involved in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah would not replace the supernatural element in the account, since God’s Word plainly describes the event as more than a by-chance natural disaster.

It isn’t wrong to hypothesize that God used nature in executing His will, so long as we do not restrict Him to only using nature (i.e., saying that all miracles have a natural explanation), particularly if it requires twisting the Scriptures to do so. In fact, crucial to understanding that the Bible is real history is remembering that God interacts in the real world, and not just on an invisible, “supernatural” level.

3. BBC News: “Astronomers See ‘Youngest Planet’”

British astronomers have picked up signs of an extrasolar planet that may be less than a few thousand years old—a far cry from the ten-million-year age given to the next youngest planet.

The planet, which is on its way to resembling a Jupiter-like gas giant, is 520 light-years from earth and orbits the star HL Tau. One hypothesis is that the planet has formed according to the most popular model of planetary evolution: gravity pulls debris closer together, eventually cobbling a planet out of dust and gas.

Another hypothesis, however, adds a twist to the tale of this planet’s origin: the scientists report that about 1,600 years ago, a star, XZ Tau, in the same region may have passed closely by HL Tau, making the disc of debris around HL Tau unstable and triggering the planet’s formation.

While astronomers will never know for sure what caused the creation of this planet (other than that the material was part of God’s creation on Day 4 of Creation Week), it is fascinating that while secular astronomers speak on the order of millions and billions of years, there are plausible explanations for the origin of stellar objects on a far more recent timetable. (Also, for those not familiar with creation theories on the transit of distant starlight, be sure to see the links below for additional information.)

4. BBC News: “Rooks Team Up to Solve Problems”

A team at the University of Cambridge has found that pairs of birds can solve a problem “as well as” pairs of chimps, reports BBC News.

The researchers conducted an experiment with rooks, a species of crow, to see if pairs could cooperate in order to solve a problem allowing them to reach a tray of food.

In the experiment, a food tray was placed just out of reach of each pair of captive crows. Connected to two hooks on the tray, however, and threaded into the crows’ cage in two places was a single piece of string. The two ends of the string dangled 24 inches (60cm) apart, too far for either crow to reach simultaneously.

Thus, the crows had a challenge: if only one bird pulled on either string, it would pull the other end out of the cage and (eventually) pull the string out of the hooks on the tray. So would the crows, without any training, figure out how to team up, with each pulling one end of the string, enabling the crows to move the tray in range of their hungry beaks?

Eight pairs of crows were tested, with each ultimately cooperating and solving the challenge. Some pairs solved the task almost immediately, whereas others took a day or two before figuring out how to solve the puzzle.

Amanda Seed, lead author of the research paper (published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B), explained, “They performed remarkably well—as well as chimps when they were presented with the same test.”

The crows, however, did stumble on a second test. The setup was the same in the new challenge, but this time one crow was placed in a neighboring cage connected by a one-way flap. The researchers wondered if one crow would wait for the other to enter the cage before attempting to pull the tray in. But it seemed the crows just weren’t that patient.

The researchers concluded that while the crows were able to cooperate, they may not have understood the necessity of cooperation, unlike chimps who surmounted the second challenge.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the next planned experiments with other types of birds to determine if they exhibit the cooperative behavior. Interestingly, the evolutionary caricature—affirmed in popular culture—is that great apes, and especially chimpanzees, are almost human and are our close evolutionary cousins, yet studies have demonstrated that several genera of birds, cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), and even elephants are also highly intelligent.

Many animals are superior to humans in one way or another (speed, strength, special capabilities, etc.); some are even intelligent enough to communicate with humans in certain basic ways. But as intelligent as some animals may be, the Bible explains that only humans are made in the image of God.

5. Baptist Standard: “Fundamentalists of All Stripes Want to Turn Back the Clock”

The two photographs on a Baptist Standard editor’s piece on fundamentalism are of rioting Shi’ite Muslims and a smiling Ken Ham (AiG president) next to a dinosaur at the Creation Museum. We’ll let you guess how the author, Marv Knox, feels about creationists.

In a shoddy attempt at crowding out journalism with invective, Marv Knox, editor of the newsmagazine that bills itself as representing Texas Baptists, takes a look at what “fundamentalists of every faith share”: resistance to modernity. (So much for the traditional definition of a fundamentalist as referring to someone who sticks to the Word of God.)

Knox is taking a cue from Roger Olson, a theologian at Baylor University, which describes itself as the world’s largest Baptist university. Baylor University is not only notoriously anti-creation, but also odiously against even the vague ideas of intelligent design (see News to Note, September 15, 2007, item #2, and Professor at Baptist university calls intelligent design “dumb”).

Lumping the late Jerry Falwell with Ayatollah Khomeini and Muqtada al-Sadr, Knox writes, “Fundamentalism finds a home in all major faith groups,” then goes through the “factors or impulses” that, he argues, “propel adherents toward fundamentalism or militant religion.” He then reviews four: dogmatic faith, identity, fear, and politics. And that, apparently, is what ties Answers in Genesis to al-Qaeda.

Of course, it might be more humorous if this sad story didn’t reflect the perspective of millions who do blindly stereotype those who believe the Bible as being just as anti-modern, militant, etc., as Osama bin Laden.

In fact, creationists are avidly pro-science and certainly are not militant or fearmongering. As for politics, Answers in Genesis has been and continues to stay out of that arena for various reasons. Yet reality is apparently of little importance for Knox and Olson.

Our question for Christians who so vehemently attack creationists for resisting modern science is this: doesn’t so-called modern science deny the biblical account of the virgin birth, resurrection. and miracles of Christ—indeed, all supernaturalism—just as completely as it does the biblical account of creation? Is it any wonder why this version of Christianity is ineffectual in reaching many people with the full and true gospel message?

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