Has E. coli evolved in front of our very eyes? A recent report in New Scientist claims that it has—and is a poke in the eye for creationists. But when we take a look at the facts, is this actually the case? Or is this another example of the emperor trying on new clothes?
To get an idea of the evolutionary presuppositions and interpretations the article is filled with, take a look at the first web comment it inspired:
More proof, if any were needed, that Darwin is right, and the God squad wrong. But it won’t make any difference to them . . . the truth is to be found in the holy texts, and not laboratories.
The New Scientist article, “Bacteria Make Major Evolutionary Shift in the Lab,” starts off, “A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers’ eyes. It’s the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait.” But let’s take a look at this “evolutionary innovation,” this “rare and complex new trait” that the evolution god has “created.”
The story starts 20 years back at Michigan State University. Evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski took a single E. coli bacterium and propagated it, using its descendants to “found” 12 laboratory populations that have continued to grow since then.
Lenski’s been watching in the meantime—perhaps not always literally, but nonetheless observing as 44,000 generations of the E. coli have come and gone. Every 500 generations, Lenski pulled a sample of each E. coli population and put it in the deep freeze.
During all this time, the bacteria has mutated (as expected) and “evolved”—and here, of course, is where the controversy begins.
According to Lenski, most of the evolution in the populations was the same: larger cells and faster growth rates, as well as lower “peak population densities,” occurred in each of the populations.
The most notable change happened in just one of the populations: around the 31,500th generation, the bacteria “suddenly acquired the ability to metabolise citrate,” which E. coli cannot normally process. The E. coli that developed the citrate-processing ability then increased in population size and diversity.
Lenski figures that this “citrate-plus” ability was an unusual circumstance. New Scientist explains, “either it was a single mutation of an unusually improbable sort, a rare chromosome inversion . . . or else gaining the ability to use citrate required the accumulation of several mutations in sequence.”
But Lenski wondered: would that same ability have evolved again? He has since “replayed” the evolution from frozen samples, but only the original population of E. coli has supposedly re-evolved the citrate-processing capability, and only from generation 20,000 or later. Thus, Lenski and his team have concluded that something occurred in the single population after generation 20,000 that enabled the citrate processing around generation 31,500.
The New Scientist article closes:
Lenski’s experiment is also yet another poke in the eye for anti-evolutionists, notes Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. “The thing I like most is it says you can get these complex traits evolving by a combination of unlikely events,” he says. “That’s just what creationists say can’t happen.”
While Darwinists are quick to claim this experiment as support for “evolution” (in reference to full-blown, molecules-to-man evolution), let’s first take a step back and review what “evolution” is, along with the different narratives evolutionists and creationists tell.
“Evolution” (in a biological sense), strictly defined, is simply a change in a population’s gene frequencies over time (as generations come and go). Thus, even mutations that remove genetic information can spread if they confer some reproductive and survival advantage.
Thus, any time a biological population is observed undergoing any sort of heritable change—even a change that keeps genetic information constant or that reduces genetic information—it is “evolution” in action. This evolution “before our very eyes” is usually then touted as proof for molecules-to-man evolution, even though the latter would require a massive increase in genetic information. It’s the old “bait and switch” tactic, as “evolution” shifts meaning from experimentally shown change to unobservable molecules-to-man change.
So what’s really going on in Lenski’s experiment? Actually, nobody really knows! Lenski’s team is still working to understand “just what that earlier change was, and how it made the . . . mutation possible.” They will likely be analyzing the genome of the original E. coli parent and the genomes of its “evolved” offspring. The citrate-processing ability may be due to the activation of a latent function or a beneficial (but not information-gaining) mutation that allows citrate processing.
It’s important for us all to remember that when we read science news that seems to “confirm” evolution, it’s never a true threat to the biblical worldview and the creation account because God’s Word never changes but man’s fallible ideas do.
Furthermore, creationists are just as interested in figuring out how the citrate-processing ability came about in this batch of E. coli. AiG’s Dr. Georgia Purdom is studying the research for an upcoming semi-technical article in the journal Answers In Depth.
Physicists in the U.S. have claimed we may be able to detect time before time: what existed before the fabled big bang.
The Caltech team, which hopes to publish their study in Physical Review Letters, has hypothesized that the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, a trace of radiation hitting earth from all directions and thought by some to date to some 12.5 billion years ago, may contain the signature of time before the big bang.
Although the CMB is mostly uniform, big bang theorists have speculated that the slight variations may represent the “seeds from which the galaxy clusters we see in today’s [u]niverse grew.” But the Caltech team, headed by Adrienne Erickcek, believes the CMB fluctuations show that our universe may have “bubbled” out of another one—in other words, supporting the idea of multiple universes.
To get an idea of where this idea falls on the practical physics–wild ideas spectrum, hear what study coauthor Sean Carroll said of the hypothesis at the American Astronomical Society meeting: “A universe could form inside this room and we’d never know.”
Interestingly, the scientists claim their idea is an attempt to explain why time flows in one direction only. BBC News explains:
Physicists have long blamed this one-way movement, known as the “arrow of time[,]” on a physical rule known as the second law of thermodynamics, which insists that systems move over time from order to disorder. . . . The second law cannot be escaped, but Professor Carroll pointed out that it depends on a major assumption—that the [u]niverse began its life in an ordered state. This makes understanding the roots of this most fundamental of laws a job for cosmologists.
Carroll contributed a few other quotations that again fall on the “wild ideas” end of the physics spectrum:
“Every time you break an egg or spill a glass of water you’re learning about the [b]ig [b]ang.”
Detailed measurements . . . have shown that the fluctuations in the [CMB] are about 10% stronger on one side of the sky than those on the other. Carroll conceded that this might just be a coincidence, but pointed out that a natural explanation for this discrepancy would be if it represented a structure inherited from our universe’s parent.
“We’re trained to say there was no time before the Big Bang, when we should say that we don’t know whether there was anything—or if there was, what it was.”
There are numerous lessons creationists can take away from this research. First, and perhaps most obvious, is the blatant speculative nature of modern, big-bang-based astrophysical science. The data (in this case, the raw microwave radiation that we observe) is buried under layer after layer of unsupported (and often unsupportable) interpretive hypotheses (such as the idea that another universe spawned our own, which begs the question of where that universe came from).
Second, it is not surprising that astrophysicists are attempting to justify the existence of other universes; the idea of multiple universes, in fact, is a key counter argument to the Anthropic Principle, which points out the numerous “just-right” factors that allow life on earth. The “coincidence” of these factors goes away if one believes there could be an infinite number of universes out there, with every possible variation.
So why all these wild ideas? As astrophysicists try to look “beyond” time and ask questions beyond human understanding, we shouldn’t be surprised their ideas sound so wild!
Rare and rarely seen outside of zoos, the Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard. But recently a group of stranded Britons had an encounter with a Komodo dragon that was reminiscent of a dinosaur-era battle.
British divers stranded on a remote Indonesian island were forced to defend themselves when a “man-eating” Komodo dragon appeared on their beach looking for an easy meal. The divers had already spent half a day in shark-infested waters and were dehydrated and exhausted.
To protect themselves, the divers hurled rocks at the Komodo dragon, which eventually retreated. The castaways were eventually rescued.
This rare encounter, along with others in which humans have been attacked, killed, and even eaten by Komodo dragons, give us a glimpse of what life was like during the age of “dinosaurs”—though we’ll note that if the Komodo dragon were extinct today, it would probably be considered a long-lost dinosaur that died off millions of years before humans.
Skeptics often scoff at how dinosaurs and man could have coexisted, but the same tactics humans use against large beasts today (big cats, for example), would have been effective against dinosaurs: avoidance, defense in groups, use of simple weapons, and even trapping. In fact, it was likely human self-defense and possibly outright human predation that contributed mainly to the demise of the dinosaurs.
Why is it that evolutionary scientists absolutely reject the dinosaur–human connection—even as we live among reptiles that would probably have been classified as “dinosaurs” or “dinosaur-era,” and despite the abundant evidence of dinosaurs in human history (e.g., artwork that just “happens” to look like dinosaurs and tales of dragons that just “happen” to be near facsimiles of fossilized dinosaurs later discovered). The answer, of course, is the ironclad faith evolutionists have in their interpretation of the fossil record as representing millions of years of distinct periods and eras.
A unicorn has been spotted in Italy—“fantasy becoming reality,” says one scientist. So what is the reality?
Seen in an Italian nature preserve, the one-horned deer is literally a “unicorn” (which merely means “one horn”). “This is fantasy becoming reality,” said Gilberto Tozzi, director of the (Italian) Center of Natural Sciences.
The deer, which was born a year ago in captivity, is believed to have a genetic flaw, although its twin has two horns. Deer missing a horn are “rare but not unheard of,” reports AP, but the positioning of this deer’s single horn in the center of its head is what is notable.
Tozzi added. “This shows that even in past times, there could have been animals with this anomaly. It’s not like [historical figures who wrote about unicorns] dreamed it up.”
Since the Bible mentions unicorns in a few passages (Deuteronomy 33:17; Numbers 23:22, 24:8; Psalm 22:21, 29:6, 92:10; Isaiah 34:7), some may wonder if such uni-horned deer were the “unicorns” of old. That would certainly be possible and may explain the images of unicorns in historic artwork. Like the fire-breathing dragons clearly based on—but also a stretch from—real dinosaurs, perhaps the horse-and-narwhal-like unicorns were based on rare sightings of deer, goats, oryx, or other four-legged animals with similar single, central horn mutations.
The other hypothesis, which seems equally plausible, is that the unicorn refers to the rhinoceros. After all, “unicorn” (as mentioned above) simply means “one horn,” and the rhinoceros is the only known animal to normally have one horn. The rhinoceros would also fit in the Bible passages that mention unicorns without any inconsistencies.
We will likely never know exactly what the historical basis for the unicorn was, but we do know that it’s not an outright “myth”; it has a real origin in real animals. While skeptics enjoy poking fun at “unicorn-believing” creationists (there is a “Unicorn Museum” website that is a satire of our Creation Museum, for instance), it’s actually the skeptics who seem to be standing in the way of the evidence.
They may not be angling anytime soon on major television sports networks, but for the long-tailed macaques of Indonesia, fishing is apparently a way of life.
Four times in the past eight years, researchers from the Nature Conservancy and the Great Ape Trust have observed the macaques “scooping up small fish” with their hands along rivers in parts of Indonesia. This adds to the macaques’ many known food-acquiring skills, which includes crab and insect foraging, fruit consumption, and even theft from food-bearing tourists!
Other primates have been observed grabbing for fish, too—Erik Meijaard, one author of a study on the fishing macaques that appeared in the International Journal of Primatology, reported that Japanese macaques, chacma baboons, olive baboons, chimpanzees, and orangutans have all been seen catching fish. However, the study authors note that such fishing remains a “rare and isolated” behavior.
Notre Dame anthropologist Agustin Fuentes, who studies the macaques, reported that the finding helped show “the complexity of these animals.” We wonder how many read such news and think, “Wow, those apes are so intelligent—it seems every day there’s something that shows how similar they are to us!” But primate intelligence is a sign of common descent only if one believes, a priori, that similarities show common descent—in other words, only if one already presupposes evolution. For creationists, animals intelligently seeking food—from the “fishing” of macaques to a house cat’s clever attempts to get to the fish bowl—is a reminder not only of the intelligence God put in many of his creatures, but also of the carnivory brought about by the entrance of sin in the world.
Once again, scientific research backs up the Bible—and it’s nothing new that it supports the Bible’s description of humanity as a single race.
Scientists from the University of Copenhagen studied the remains from two Danish burial grounds, including those of a man who “appears to be,” based on genetic information, of Arabian origin.
The burial grounds, which have been dated to 1–400 BC, are located on the southern part of the Danish island of Zealand. The researchers analyzed the mitochondrial DNA found in the remains, determining that “human beings were as genetically diverse 2000 years ago as they are today”—and that humans 2000 years ago were more mobile and more “connected” with others than was previously thought. This is both due to the Arab remains in the burial ground and because none of the remains were related maternally. This indicates that ancient Danes were not living and dying in the same village (with entire families buried together), but rather were moving from place to place during their lives.
Additionally, this finding adds to confirmation that it is a “fallacy,” as the news release calls it, to accept the concept of a uniform “Scandinavian” genetic type or race. Study head Linea Melchior explains:
“All of our ancestors, no matter when they arrived have contributed to our history and the development of our lifestyle. Indeed, Danish identity is more a definition of where one is physically located and lives today than a question of our past history—since we’re all originally [A]frican in origin.”
Indeed, rather than distinctly separate ethnic or racial groups, we are all of one blood, because we do share the same origin and the same parents, ultimately. But that origin is not in Africa; rather, we are all descendants of Adam through Noah and his children. After the dispersion at Babel, the resulting tribes spread over the globe (as God originally commanded), remaining at times separate but also intermingling other times. Thus, the original tribes have shifted and swayed over the years into modern people groups. By remembering our shared origin, we can put to rest racist notions of genetic purity and superiority and maintain the biblical view that all humans have equal value.
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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