1. National Geographic News: “Fishy Ancestors of Humans Surprisingly Diverse” and BBC News: “Fossil Fills out Water–Land Leap”

According to a much-ballyhooed report in Nature, scientists have found another fish-to-tetrapod “missing link.” Just don’t read the fine print.

A group of researchers headed by Professor Per Ahlberg from Uppsala University in Sweden has put their heads together—or at least, skulls and other fossils—and announced that an animal first unearthed in 1994, Ventastega curonica, “gives us clues to what the very earliest tetrapods looked liked.” The animal would likely have been aquatic and looked similar to a small alligator with a tail fin and a gill flap.

The real news according to reports, however, is that Ventastega is a transitory species, representing “an evolutionary midpoint between Tiktaalik . . . and primitive four-legged land animals.” The most recent specimens are said to give a clear portrait of an animal that has a hybrid fish-tetrapod skull and a “full-fledged tetrapod body.”

According to Professor Ahlberg:

Ventastega fills the gap between Tiktaalik and the earliest land based mammals. All these changes in these creatures are not going in lockstep; it’s a mosaic with different parts of animal evolving at different rates. Ventastega has acquired some of land-animal characteristics, but has not yet got some of the other ones.

That’s it then: case closed on fish evolving into land animals. Or is it? It is interesting that the authors would suggest that Ventastega is a “midpoint” between the fish Tiktaalik and land animals, since this is not entirely accurate—even using their own framework. In fact, according to the BBC News report, “Ventastega is a later species [than Tiktaalik] but is a more primitive animal.” Setting aside the arbitrary application of “primitive,” it is interesting that something hailed as transitional would be, by the author’s own estimation, a step backwards of sorts. After all, Ventastega was a dead-end that went extinct. (If we use their framework, we could just as easily say that alligators, crocodiles, seals, sea lions, crabs, and turtles represent transitional species, since they have features that allow them to live in and out of the water—never mind that they are well suited for their particular environments.)

So, even though the reports have headlines proclaiming that this new find fills out gaps and represents “human ancestors,” the articles themselves do not bear out these claims. Instead, the facts (the fossils) are nearly lost in the pontification (evolutionary assumptions). The researchers approach Ventastega with the assumption that evolution of sea to land animals occurred, and this new species, according to National Geographic News, “in many ways fulfills scientists’ expectations of what an early water-land transition animal should look like” (emphasis added). In other words, they had a preconceived notion and found what they wanted to find, even despite some morphological surprises (which they did acknowledge, but then used the unexpected morphology to suggest a fix for another evolutionary problem). As Dr. Ted Daeschler, a paleontologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, says, “It’s kind of remarkable that when we start to see true limbed animals, they’ve already diversified and are filling various special niches.” Indeed, it is amazing how the original created kinds diversified once after creation and again after the Flood.

What the scientists in this study did not do, was examine alternative ideas about what Ventastega represents. For example, if we start from the Bible—that God created the earth and all animal kinds in six days about 6,000 years ago, then we would likely conclude that Ventastega, like Tiktaalik, represents both the amazing creativity and economy that God has used in the multitude of diverse designs He made.

In his debunking of the “missing link” status of Tiktaalik, Dr. David Menton’s conclusion there is just as appropriate for Ventastega:

Sadly, “unfounded notions” of this kind continue to be uncritically taught and accepted in the popular media and in our schools. Even more sadly, these unfounded notions have been used to undermine the authority of Holy Scripture.

2. LiveScience: “Astronomers on Verge of Finding Earth’s Twin”

Sooner or later, say some astronomers, we’ll run across an extrasolar planet so similar to our own planet that we’ll be able to call it “Earth’s twin.”

The claim is based on recent discoveries of extrasolar planets (or “exoplanets”) increasingly similar to Earth, such as the discovery last week of three planets with masses between “only” two and ten times that of Earth. (Previously discovered exoplanets have mostly been significantly larger than Earth—much more similar to the gas giants in our own solar system—because such exoplanets are more easily detected.)

Commenting on last week’s news, planet formation theorist Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution explained that, “Being able to find three Earth-mass planets around a single star really makes the point that not only may many stars have one Earth, but they may very well have a couple of Earths.” University of California–Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy adds, “So far we’ve found Jupiters and Saturns, and now our technology is becoming good enough to detect planets smaller, more like the size of Uranus and Neptune, and even smaller.”

And what’s the big goal of most astronomers who are looking for Earth’s twin? LiveScience elucidates:

Such a twin would be rocky, with a similar chemical composition to Earth, and would orbit within the habitable zone of its star. . . . Finding a planet in the habitable zone is the first step toward finding alien life.

As we’ve pointed out before, these astronomers aren’t actually able to directly see exoplanets, and thus (with current technology) we wouldn’t be able to photograph an “Earth twin” even if we found one. All of the detection is indirect, through calculations based on a star’s position (as influenced by the gravity of its planets) or brightness (as diminished by the transit of a planet “in front” of the star).

Then there’s the idea of what an Earth-like planet is. For an evolutionist, any planet discovered with liquid water and an environment even very roughly similar to Earth’s might be labeled “Earth’s twin,” even if no human would have a hope of surviving on it.

When evolution-believing astronomers discuss exoplanets and our likelihood of finding Earth-like planets, their hopes hinge on their outright faith that where water exists, life will soon evolve, almost as if it were a necessary consequence.

The discovery of exoplanets of all shapes, sizes, and compositions shouldn’t trouble Christians—nor should anything, for that matter, when we start with God’s Word. In fact, when you think about it, the primarily Darwinian-driven search for extraterrestrial life has come empty so far, even though not so long ago Mars, the moon, or even Venus was thought to possibly harbor life. As we learn more about what lies beyond our solar system, we can (and do!) praise our Creator for the marvels of matter He made on Day 4 of Creation Week—and the marvels of life He created on Days 3, 5, and 6 on Earth.

3. BBC News: “‘Neanderthal tools’ found at dig

Numerous tools, thought to have been forged by Neanderthals, have been uncovered in England.

The archaeological site where the tools were found has not undergone a modern investigation since its discovery in 1900.

Astonishingly, more than 2,000 tools were discovered at the site in the early 1900s, but because they were considered fakes, most were thrown down a well and have since been almost completely forgotten. However, recent work that showed similarities between the remaining tools and other known Neanderthal tools from elsewhere in Europe put to rest suspicions of forgery.

According to University College London’s Matthew Pope, the site was once home to a hunting community, and the tools discovered at the site were perhaps once used to hunt horses, along with woolly mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.

Pope’s words encourage us to view Neanderthals not as subhuman, but rather as highly capable and intelligent humans:

The impression [the tools] give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology—not a people on the edge of extinction.

Pope explained that the hill where the site is located would have offered the Neanderthal hunters a perfect vantage point as game herds grazed on the plains nearby.

Meanwhile, Barney Sloane, head of English Heritage’s Historic Environment Commissions, commented, “This study offers a rare chance to answer some crucial questions about just how technologically advanced Neanderthals were, and how they compare with our own species.”

We also can’t help but quote at length from what the Daily Mail has to say about the discovery:

They were squat, crude and brutish—and barely capable of uttering more than a grunt. Little wonder that Neanderthal Man became a byword for stupidity. But the image of a knuckle-dragging bonehead with a beetle brow and a dimwitted stare may need a little updating. According to evidence revealed yesterday, our cave-dwelling cousins might not have been quite as thick as we thought. Items found at an archeological site in West Sussex suggest they were talented users of crafted tools and were in “complete command” of the landscape they inhabited. Not only did they make razor-sharp hunting spears and weaponry, but probably used flintstone blades to strip and fashion animal skin for clothing. They had the capability to create fire—and may even have used materials around them to craft crude musical instruments. . . . Males were just over 5ft and, despite the ape-like way they are often portrayed in cartoons, stood fully upright. They also had a bigger brain than Homo sapiens, although most of it was probably devoted to keener senses rather than sharper wit.

While the Mail’s claim that Neanderthal’s larger brains were devoted to senses rather than wit is purely evolution-driven speculation, the majority of these comments—and Pope’s research—stand in full support of the Bible-based perspective on Neanderthals. While we often think of them as distinct from “modern” humans, all the evidence we have on their behavior indicates that they were just as modern and intelligent or perhaps even more so.

One thought experiment to help consider how evolutionists “know” Neanderthals were less modern is to imagine a group of modern-day businessmen somehow stranded on an isolated Pacific island. Though they manage to eke out a living and adopt caves as homes, they are never rescued, and all eventually die on the island. Many years later, evolutionist anthropologists visit the island and find some of the remains and “artifacts” the businessmen left—crude tools, fire pits, and animal bones littering parts of the local caves. Ignoring the possibility of modern language use (e.g., in cave artwork), how will the businessmen be judged? As pre-humans?

Now, what if we hypothesize that all of the businessmen had suffered from rickets and had deformed skeletal structures. What will the anthropologists say? A new hominid species, Homo rudimentarius!

Thus is the sad fate of Neanderthals, who are thought to be inferior merely because they lack the skeletal structure of we humans who live today. But a closer look at this just-as-human subgroup tells us that Neanderthals were created in the image of God, descendants of Adam through Noah.

4. CNN: “Teacher Accused of Burning Cross on Student’s Arm”

It’s the sad sort of story that matches up perfectly with a frequent media stereotype of fundamentalist Christians: an Ohio science teacher, already said to have been teaching creationism, has been accused of burning a cross into a student’s arm.

John Freshwater, an eighth-grade science teacher of 21 years in Mount Vernon, Ohio, is now in danger of losing his job after allegedly using an electrostatic device to burn a cross on the arm of one of his students. The student’s family claimed the burn caused pain to the student on the night of the incident. The student’s family is now responding with a lawsuit.

Previously, Freshwater has been the center of controversy for “teaching creationism alongside evolution,” reports CNN, as well as refusing to remove his Bible from his classroom desk, both actions for which he was reprimanded. An independent report, a PDF of which is hosted on the Columbus Dispatch website, also includes the claim that Freshwater told his students, “[S]cience is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and is therefore a sinner.”

Interestingly, although this story just broke on major media outlets late last week, the burning incident occurred in December of last year as was originally reported in April. The aforementioned independent report gives the following details on the electrostatic burn incident:

Mr. Freshwater said that he uses a telsa coil as part of a lab experiment where he charges gasses. He puts the elements in test tubes in a row, and then charges them with the device, and the students identify the elements by the color of the gasses. He said that the device is high voltage, but low current.
He said that he uses the device about twice a year and has done so for 21 years. At the end of the experiment the kids are excited and ask if they can touch it. He said that he demonstrates it on his own arm by making an “X” and then lets them touch it voluntarily. He said that the incident in question occurred in December 2007. He remembers getting from 3 to 8 volunteers, but couldn’t remember the order or all of the names.
He said that the device is owned by the school, he received verbal instructions on using it 21 years ago, and has never seen any written instructions. He said that he has not had a complaint in 21 years regarding his use of the device. The device leaves a red mark after one or two seconds of touching, but no blisters. He denied any religious discussions during this or any previous occurrences. He said that he would never hurt a student.

The report said that one investigator also used the device on his arm, with the result that “the device left a slight redness with no burns and the redness disappeared overnight” and that, while Freshwater’s use of the device was inappropriate, they did not believe that he intentionally harmed the student. While some of Freshwater’s actions are indeed questionable, it appears this may be largely a game of character assassination or “guilt by association” for other creationists, with some other news sources saying little or nothing about the details of the incident itself or what Freshwater has explained of the incident. Instead, they merely report the sensational news that a creationist teacher has burned a student. Note the top bullet point, even, on this article under Story Highlights: “Ohio teacher accused of branding cross on student's arm, teaching creationism.”

5. LiveScience: “Sarcasm Seen as Evolutionary Survival Skill”

We at Answers in Genesis think evolutionary theory is just about the greatest thing since sliced bread. And so is sarcasm! Well, at least it gives us a little license to “pour it on” a bit, at least in this piece.

Is it a joke or isn’t it? One evolutionist is now claiming even the humor subclass known as sarcasm is an “evolutionary survival skill”!

The evolutionist is Meredith F. Small, a Cornell University anthropologist who authors LiveScience’s column on human nature. Of course, her article on sarcasm begins with an assertion steeped in the evolutionary worldview: “Humans are fundamentally social animals.”

Small’s assertion is drawn from recent work by University of California–San Francisco neurophysiologist Katherine Rankin, who has explored the role sarcasm plays in social interaction. In her work, Rankin learned that individuals with damage to the parahippocampal gyrus region of the brain, such as those who suffer from dementia or who have sustained head injuries, are often unable to identify sarcasm when they hear it. Small suggests that this means sarcasm is probably part of human nature (we would agree)—but then adds that sarcasm is also “probably an evolutionarily good thing” (and we just love to hear things like that, of course).

So let’s read the story of the development of sarcasm that Small invented. (This story alone convinced several staff members at AiG to become ardent evolutionists, by the way. OK, more sarcasm.)

It’s also easy to imagine how sarcasm might be selected over time as evolutionarily crucial. Imagine two ancient humans running across the savannah with a hungry lion in pursuit. One guy says to the other, “Are we having fun yet?” and the other just looks blank and stops to figure out what in the world his pal meant by that remark. End of friendship, end of one guy’s contribution to the future of the human gene pool.
Fast forward a few million years and the network of human relationships is wider and more complex, and just as important to survival. The corporate chairman throws out a sarcastic remark and those who “get” it laugh, smile, and gain favor. In the same way, if the chair never makes a remark, sarcastic people are making them behind his or her back, forming a clique by their mutually negative, but funny, comments. Either way, sarcasm plays a role in making and breaking alliances and friendship.

We’ll ask one easy, easy (so easy it’s rhetorical, actually) question of Small: where do we draw the line between the human behavior that exists for evolutionary purposes (so that we can get an advantage over our running partner or our coworkers) and the human behavior that is the simple result of conscious beings freely choosing to express themselves? Our guess is that in Small’s view, the latter does not exist: there is ultimately no human action that is considered independent from the evolutionary drive and “survival of the fittest” mantra. Whether we help someone or hurt someone, it’s evolution. Whether we love or hate, choose a large family or a small family, say one thing or say another, it all ultimately comes down to evolution’s selected heritable traits expressing themselves in our lives, apparently.

And so, when taken to its logical conclusion, evolutionary theory crowds out any room for individual choices or morality and cheapens the human experience by shifting our role from the endpoint of a loving God’s very personal, perfectly planned creation to a vague midpoint in a senseless, millions-of-years bloodbath of “accidental” life—and that’s even before we consider the issue of whether objective truth even exists! So what happens to morality?

It may seem like a stretch to connect the evolutionary view of sarcasm to the evolutionary view of morality, but ultimately, our view of “where we came from” shapes every aspect of our lives. If you’re a Christian and you haven’t considered how evolutionary theory erodes biblical doctrine and morality, make it a priority to examine the issue. We have plenty of resources to help you!

6. Reuters: “Spanish Parliament to Extend Rights to Apes”

For the first time, a national legislature has voiced support for extending human rights to animals.

Resolutions approved in the Spanish Parliament’s environmental committee call on Spain to comply with the Great Apes project in protecting apes from harmful experimentation. According to the report, the resolutions enjoy cross-party support and will likely become law.

In addition, the law would also protect apes from being kept for the purpose of circuses or filming, both punishable offenses. Zoos will still be allowed to keep apes, but “conditions will need to improve drastically.”

The disturbing part of this story is not the protection for the apes. After all, humans have an obligation to care for the world that God created—including the apes. What is disturbing is the justification for this law, which was not (unsurprisingly) based on God’s command in Genesis.

Instead, the Great Apes Project’s founders claim that “non-human-hominids” are “our closest relatives” and should enjoy “the right to life, freedom, and not to be tortured.” The law, then, is founded upon evolutionary assumptions—a shaky foundation at best, since this law actually goes against evolutionary expectations.

If evolution is all there is, then why should we not abuse animals, including apes, as we see fit—especially if it can benefit us? After all, as it allegedly has been for “zillions” of years, animals must either evolve ways to survive our onslaught or die off to make room for us. Why should there be any moral value given to one species’s attempts at living and using resources as compared to another’s. In the supposed evolutionary nature of this world, we wouldn’t sue wolves for killing rabbits, cats for attacking dogs, or bats for eating fruit, or even male lions killing another male’s offspring, since everything is the result of time and chance with no inherent worth. But one can hardly expect these founders to be consistent, since they have no basis for objective truth.

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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