1. ScienceDaily: “Did Walking On Two Feet Begin With A Shuffle?”

Might the missing link have done a dance move on its way to bipedalism?

Here’s the story: a few million years ago, an ape was standing on its hind legs to reach a piece of yummy fruit. Then, spotting another nearby, it shuffled toward it on two legs rather than dropping to all fours. Voilà! We just proved evolution.

That’s the tall tale told by researchers from the University of Washington and Johns Hopkins University, who have developed a model that suggests that upright shuffling developed before upright walking. The study was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Here’s the basic idea: since “our last common ancestor probably had a body like that of a chimp . . . chimps are a good place to start,” explained University of Washington anthropologist Patricia Kramer. Of course, evolutionists believe that chimpanzees are also our closest living relative, although they walk on all fours. Chimps may sometimes move on two feet, but only for a short distance; walking is too energy inefficient for chimps, otherwise, so they stick to all fours. Kramer gives the analogy of a baby learning to walk: the baby may wobble along a few steps, but if the baby wants to go across the room, he or she will instead crawl.

If the team had stopped at that point, creationists could applaud the research: apes rarely walk because it is rarely energy efficient, only being so for very short movements (usually less than 3 ft [1m]). It confirms that apes weren’t designed to go around on two feet only.

But, of course, the evolutionary interpretation is a completely unnecessary tack-on to the research; and in the case of this study, it opens the research up to attack.

First of all, as we said, the research is an explanation of the observed behavior of apes, and actually shows the limits to ape bipedalism (that is, it runs counter to the supposed ape-to-human connection). Furthermore, this is the “built-in” (designed) behavior of apes; for the evolutionary tale to be true, some ancient apes needed to undergo mutations that actually changed the skeletal structure and made it energy efficient to walk on two feet for longer distances.

Second, an animal changing its method of locomotion temporarily in no way indicates that it may evolve in a particular direction; other animals (household pets, for example), often stand on two feet—and even walk, momentarily—when a tasty morsel is dangled above them. If an aberrant group of evolutionists believed humans evolved from canines, they could use the same research as Kramer’s group, but instead base the study on household pets instead of chimpanzees, and they would arrive at the same conclusions.

Finally, evolutionists have to weave a story about how bipedalism/apemen emerged because the evidence for such a transition just isn’t there. In fact, even the news release on the research admits as much:

Because of a huge gap in the fossil record that hides when humans split off from other primates, Kramer and co-author Adam Sylvester . . . used the chimpanzee as a way of looking into the past and testing other researchers' ideas about the origins of bipedalism.

Evolutionists indeed have a story, the great “scripture” of natural selection over eons and eons. Creationists have a history—one that lines up with the facts and is the Word of our Creator.

2. ScienceNOW: “Rodent Bones of Contention”

The subject is radiocarbon dating, and we think we smell a rat!

Almost anyone familiar with the debate over the age of the earth is familiar with radiometric dating: testing for the existence of various atomic isotopes in a substance, then using the determined amount to extrapolate an age for the substance.

Creationists have long pointed out the numerous problems in radiometric dating, including the underlying assumed rates of decay, amount of initial concentration, presumption of a closed system, and so forth. Interestingly, this week, radiocarbon dating of rat bones from New Zealand raises the issue of just how “foolproof” this radiometric dating method is.

The history of rats on New Zealand, while not a grade school topic, is important to the anthropologists who have tried to determine just when humans reached New Zealand. According to the commonly accepted theory, rats were stowaways (or perhaps brought as food) on the boats of the Polynesian explorers who first reached New Zealand. Thus, based on the 1996 carbon-dating of rat bones, some anthropologists concluded it was as early as 200 B.C. when the first humans (and rats) reached the islands.

But wait! That study has been controversial, because anthropologists have found no legacies of human settlement that would date to that time period. Instead, other anthropologists believe it wasn’t until the 13th century that rats and humans arrived. But what to do with the carbon-dating results from the 1996 study? Simple: it must have been a lab error, these anthropologists argue.

In search of a verdict, paleoecologist Janet Wilmshurst of New Zealand’s Landcare Research has used a new preparation technique to radiocarbon date rat bones from the same excavation site of the bones used in the 1996 study. The result? The new tests indicated that all the bones were from the year 1280 or later. Next, Wilmshurst’s team tried the new technique on the same bones used in the 1996 study. This time, all the bones dated to—you guessed it!—later than 1280. Finally, the team chose to date ancient seeds thought to have been gnawed by the rats (from the same excavation site). The seeds all dated from 1290 or later.

Answers in Genesis doesn’t have a particular opinion on when rats arrived in New Zealand, though the Bible tells us that humans would have arrived after the dispersion at Babel. Given that the dispersion happened midway through the 23rd century BC, this leaves more than 3,000 years, based on this new research, for humans to have found their way to New Zealand—clearly sufficient time.

But most interesting is the treatment of the radiocarbon dating results. How often do we read that scientists have “dated” a rock or fossil to a certain age, with the date then touted as absolute, unquestionable, etc. (and anyone who refutes it considered unscientific)? Yet here is a prime example of one of the many flaws in radiometric dating: the fallibility of preparation techniques. This is in addition, of course, to our criticism of the faulty underlying assumptions of radiometric dating.

What we consistently see is that radiometric dates that fit scientists’ presuppositions (such as the assumed evolutionary timetable) are upheld without question, but those that contradict other lines of evidence—including other calculated dates—are challenged and usually forgotten, often with “lab errors” and “contamination” taking the blame.

So next time an evolutionist friend tries to tell you about how radiometric dates “prove” how old the earth is, how old fossils are, etc., just answer that you think you smell a rat!

3. ScienceNOW: “Smallest Extrasolar Planet Portends Other Earths”

The finding of the smallest known extrasolar planet yet is giving hope to those who already believe aliens are out there.

To date, most of the discovered “exoplanets”—planets not part of our own solar system—are far larger than earth, with most on the order of thousands of times as massive as earth. Furthermore, many orbit their stars far too close (or orbit far too quickly) to permit life. Even so, the search for more earth-like exoplanets continues, based on the belief that where there’s liquid water (along with a few other ingredients), life must be.

Exemplifying this attitude is Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronomer Sara Seager, who was not on the team that made the discovery. “It gives us hope of finding lots of habitable planets,” Seager commented.

It’s important to note that astronomers cannot directly observe extrasolar planets; rather, they infer their presence through indirect methods. For instance, ScienceNOW’s Richard Kerr describes “microlensing,” one technique used to determine the existence of exoplanets:

[M]icrolensing allows continuous monitoring for subtle brightening of far-distant stars as a relatively nearby star passes in front of them. The nearer star’s gravity can slightly bend—or lens—the background star’s light toward Earth, temporarily brightening it. If a planet circling the nearer star also lines up and bends some starlight, the network picks up a secondary brightening.

The exoplanetary news this week is the discovery of an extrasolar planet with a mass just three times that of earth—which may seem large, but is actually small among discovered exoplanets. Discoverer David Bennett, an astronomer at Notre Dame, used microlensing to detect the planet, which has been cataloged as MOA-2007-BLG-192L.

The irony, of course, is that while astronomers such as Sara Seager claim such exoplanetary discoveries create hope in finding habitable planets, it seems rather that hope—or faith, really—in extraterrestrial life is fueling the search for earth-like planets. For instance, Bennett said that the microlensing technique, combined with telescopic technology of the future, could directly image exoplanets and search them for signs of life. Yet the planets we’ve discovered so far, such as MOA-2007-BLG-192L, are nowhere near habitable; Bennet’s planet, for instance, is described as “more like Neptune in composition than Earth,” and the star it orbits is less than a twelfth the size of our sun.

We will note that the Bible/creation model certainly doesn’t preclude the possibility that there are earth-like planets (in terms of size and even composition) out there, although they would be like “copies” of earth itself, which is the focus of God’s plan. Furthermore, evolutionists have the connection between habitability and life going in the wrong direction. To them, if a planet is habitable, life will eventually evolve. But the Bible explains how God created earth, then placed life on it during the Creation Week—with earth the palette for His creation.

4. ScienceDaily: “Possible Ice On Mars Seen By Phoenix Lander Robotic Arm Camera”

Despite continued disappointments, scientists have latched on to another “could be” sighting of water!

The story starts off like so many others concerning water on Mars: “Scientists have discovered what may be ice . . . ” (emphasis added). The “discovery” came when NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars, blowing soil away as the robotic arm camera snapped a shot of the landing.

Robotic arm co-investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis explained the uncertainty:

We could very well be seeing rock, or we could be seeing exposed ice in the retrorocket blast zone. We’ll test the two ideas by getting more data, including color data, from the robotic arm camera. We think that if the hard features are ice, they will become brighter because atmospheric water vapor will collect as new frost on the ice.

The NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory news release also describes some of the other equipment on board Phoenix, as well as procedures and tests the scientists will be conducting with Phoenix. But it’s telling (though perhaps not surprising) that this latest “could-be” discovery leads the story and is the basis for the title.

5. ScienceNOW: “Salty Mars Looking Bad for Life”

Yet another door slams on the idea of Martian life, thanks to a new report in the journal Science.

Even as secular scientists continue to invent new reasons why we shouldn’t give up hope in finding life on Mars, other scientists find more and more problems with life-on-Mars hypotheses.

A team led by Harvard geochemist Nicholas Tosca wanted to determine if “early” Mars—presumed to have been wet—was too salty for life to survive. The team used data from the Opportunity and Spirit rovers, along with meteorites collected on Earth that are thought to have been from Mars, to calculate the salinity of the waters thought to have once covered parts of Mars.

The result? Saltwater on earth is nowhere near as concentrated as the brines that once covered Mars. In fact, Tosca’s team concludes martian seas were 10 to 100 times saltier than the seas that cover earth today. In their Science report, the team also discusses the high acidity and oxidizing conditions that add to the inhospitability of Mars. Referring to the chances of life on Mars, Tosca explained, “Our paper compresses the window of opportunity to a very short span very early in Mars’s history.” (Tosca apparently believes the water may have briefly been fresher long ago, though the ScienceNOW summary of the paper offers no details.)

Echoing the hopes we’ve discussed in other News to Note items this week, ScienceNOW reports on two scientists who cling to “hope for life” on Mars despite Tosca’s team’s finding. It’s no surprise that the basis of their faith is evolution, as ScienceNOW explains: “Faced with greater challenges, martian life may have evolved even better ways to cope with salty water than Earth's microbes have devised.”

The elusive prospect of life on Mars is a perfect showcase of the religious faith evolutionists have, despite their protestations that they are just being scientific. And of course, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent—and continue to be spent—searching everywhere on Mars for some faint sign of life. While the findings are certainly interesting, we have to wonder if the return on the investment is worthwhile.

By the way, if ever scientists do boldly declare life on Mars—or on any other planet (except earth!)—LiveScience has an important related article that all Christians should keep in mind.

6. ScienceNOW: “The Milky Way Gets a Facelift”

Although we can’t actually see our galaxy from the outside, the latest calculations have shifted our understanding of the Milky Way’s shape once again.

While the Milky Way’s famous spiral shape hasn’t been challenged, the latest research suggests our galaxy is not the “simple and elegant” spiral we usually imagine, writes ScienceNOW’s Phil Berardelli.

Since we’re on the inside looking out, researchers have to observe other stars in the Milky Way to judge the overall size and shape, running calculations for the orbits of millions of stars.

Now, two teams have used the latest in telescopic technology to update the orthodox view of the Milky Way. One team, using the Spitzer Space Telescope, discovered that two of the galaxy’s four spiral arms aren’t really arms at all; rather, they’re just “small side-branches,” Berardelli reports. However, that team also discovered that the bar-shape center of the galaxy is actually twice as big as was thought.

The other team, using the Very Long Baseline Array collection of radio telescopes, learned that many of the “young” stars in the Milky Way’s spiral arms are orbiting the galactic center more slowly than was previously calculated.

The results of both studies were announced this week at the 212th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Berardelli writes, “the findings should force a significant rethinking about how the Milky Way evolved and how its stars formed,” but it’s our guess that for those who reject God’s account of origins, the thinking will remain basically the same: the Milky Way evolved and the stars formed through the chance collisions and conglomerations of dust! Meanwhile, when Christians look up at the Milky Way splashing its path across the night sky, we see a brilliant reminder of just how big God is—and how, insignificant though we may feel, God created us and, amazingly, cares for us (Psalm 8:3–4).

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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