1. BBC News: “Yemen Embraces its Jurassic Past”

The locals in the village of Madar, Yemen, are finally learning that the fossilized footprints running around their town weren’t made by giant camels!

Villagers have been well aware of the footprints for generations, but it was only after a tip-off from a local journalist that scientists became aware of the prints. The footprints—some of which are a foot and a half (0.5m) wide—have since been identified as belonging to a herd of eleven dinosaurs, walking together. This is the first discovery of dinosaur footprints anywhere on the Arabian Peninsula.

Of particular interest is that the dinosaur tracks are lying, exposed, at the surface of the ground, and have been like that for centuries. According to villager Yahir Saleh Arshami, “Before these tracks were named, we believed they were footprints from giant camels. But now they tell us they are from dinosaurs—we were extremely surprised. Luckily I built my house around the footprints so as not to disturb them.”

Dr. Mohammed al-Wosabi of Yemen’s University of Sana’a was the first scientist to view the prints. “These prints were made on limestone rock, which is only deposited in shallow marine areas, so we know these dinosaurs were living in a beach-type environment,” he explained. The BBC News report claims that the tracks are 150 million years old—allegedly before the Red Sea separated Arabia from Africa.

All the dinosaur prints, however, are not identical. The eleven dinosaurs seem to have been a mix of smaller, bipedal ornithopods and larger, quadrapedal sauropods. Interestingly, according to Dr. Wosabi, the footprints imply that the smaller dinosaurs walked quickly to keep pace with the larger ones, while the larger dinosaurs slowed their pace to allow the smaller ones to keep up. This is the first example of such social behavior in dinosaurs.

What may be “shocking” to News to Note readers, from a cultural point of view, is what the BBC reports about the villagers’ awareness of dinosaurs. The BBC’s Stephanie Hancock writes, “One of the biggest challenges for scientists who studied the prints was explaining to villagers what dinosaurs looked like.” Dr. Wosabi and other scientists brought along picture books to show the villagers “what dinosaurs were,” but the pictures only “surprised,” “stunned,” and “shocked” the villagers (in the words of Dr. Wosabi), when they saw the pictures showing what were certainly not camels!

Don’t fret, though—most of the villagers reportedly have since seen Jurassic Park and are now well aware of what dinosaurs were. (What a testament to the power of Hollywood movies—accurate or not!) The villagers are also hoping more foreigners will visit their village.

As for the dinosaur footprints themselves, the basis for dating them at 150 million years old is simply because of the presupposition that dinosaurs lived no more recently than the Mesozoic Era—and thus the footprints must have been imprinted at that time. This is despite the fact that the footprints are on the surface of the village ground and have not eroded away in the supposed millions of years!

A more reasonable explanation is that the footprints were formed only thousands of years ago in a late Flood sediment, and they now remain as a reminder of creatures that once walked the earth: dinosaurs, not giant camels!

2. Slate: “Losing Sight of Progress”

Rabid atheist Christopher Hitchens, writing in online magazine Slate, takes creationists to task for our alleged “blindness” to the “de”-evolution of sight.

It seems Hitchens has done some work recently in the field of cave salamanders—and by work, we mean watching television! Hitchens explains what he thinks may be an evolutionary insight:

I was watching the astonishing TV series Planet Earth . . . and had come to the segment that deals with life underground. . . . Various creatures were found doing their thing far away from the light, and as they were caught by the camera, I noticed—in particular of the salamanders—that they had typical faces. In other words, they had mouths and muzzles and eyes arranged in the same way as most animals. Except that the eyes were denoted only by little concavities or indentations. Even as I was grasping the implications of this, the fine voice of Sir David Attenborough was telling me how many millions of years it had taken for these denizens of the underworld to lose the eyes they had once possessed.

Hitchens points out that creationists often point to the eye as a primary example of design—a feature that defies evolution except in the minds of those willing to suspend disbelief. But Hitchens begins to quote atheist Michael Shermer on how the eye could have originated through sequential evolutionary steps. The fuller story is usually oversimplified thusly:

  1. a simple light-sensitive spot
  2. a depression forms housing the light-sensitive spot
  3. the depression closes, forming a nearly enclosed pouch with a pinhole aperture
  4. the pouch is covered over by transparent tissue and filled with transparent fluid, and eventually all the parts of the modern eye evolve (lens, cornea, iris, retina, etc.)

(See the links below for materials describing the incredible eye!)

Hitchens then sets up fellow polemicist Ann Coulter as a stand-in for anyone identifying with the Intelligent Design movement or any variant of creationism. Hitchens quotes Coulter, who writes in Godless: The Church of Liberalism, “The interesting question is not: How did a primitive eye become a complex eye? The interesting question is: How did the 'light-sensitive cells' come to exist in the first place?”

At this point, however, Hitchens’ logic becomes tumultuous:

The salamanders of Planet Earth appear to this layman to furnish a possibly devastating answer to [Coulter’s] question. Humans are almost programmed to think in terms of progress and of gradual yet upward curves . . . [b]ut what of the creatures who turned around and headed back in the opposite direction, from complex to primitive in point of eyesight, and ended up losing even the eyes they did have?
Whoever benefits from this inquiry, it cannot possibly be Coulter or her patrons at the creationist Discovery Institute. The most they can do is to intone that “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Whereas the likelihood that the post-ocular blindness of underground salamanders is another aspect of evolution by natural selection seems, when you think about it at all, so overwhelmingly probable as to constitute a near certainty.

So excited was Hitchens about this as-yet unclear burst of intuition that he e-mailed Richard Dawkins, another icon of atheism, to ask his thoughts. Dawkins wrote back:

Vestigial eyes, for example, are clear evidence that these cave salamanders must have had ancestors who were different from them—had eyes, in this case. That is evolution. Why on earth would God create a salamander with vestiges of eyes? If he wanted to create blind salamanders, why not just create blind salamanders? Why give them dummy eyes that don’t work and that look as though they were inherited from sighted ancestors?

Hitchens concludes with such thoughts as, “I am not myself able to add anything about the formation of light cells, eyespots, and lenses, but I do think that there is a dialectical usefulness to considering the conventional arguments in reverse, as it were.”

So . . . that’s it? The argument is so disappointing (as we’ll explain below) that, if it weren’t so prominently authored by an iconic atheist/evolutionist, we certainly wouldn’t bother covering it in News to Note. But, lest our silence be misinterpreted as being at a loss for answers, here are our thoughts.

Hitchens’ argument shows he is not familiar with what the vast majority of creationists (if not the entirety) believes (including young-earth and old-earth creationists as well as advocates of generic “intelligent design”). Hitchens’ observation is intended to ridicule the crowd that believes in fixity of species (that species never change). But who is a member of this crowd? Not anyone we know. We submit that when it is implied that creationists believe in such absolute fixity of species, that this is merely a straw man that evolutionists prop up to knock down. The Bible certainly doesn’t teach us that organisms never change.

What creationists do believe, based on observational science and the Bible’s teaching, is that animals only reproduce after their kind—a taxonomic division generally much more inclusive than species or even genus. The genotypic and phenotypic characteristics of an individual (or the frequencies of genotypes and phenotypes present in a population) may change in certain ways, but not in information-adding ways that could turn a molecule into a man in millions of years. Thus, it is well within the creationist framework for a population of salamanders living in a cave to lose their eyes over time, as eyeless salamanders are more “fit” to survive than those who use up energy to grow and maintain useless eyes. (Furthermore, the views of old-earth creationists and advocates of intelligent design are even less strict about what changes an organism may undergo—yet Hitchens lumps them in, too, as victims of his argument.)

In other words, Hitchens mistakenly assumes that believing life was designed precludes believing also that life-forms can change at all. Think of it this way: let’s say we discover a computer program that has the ability to change, within limits, to accommodate different operating systems and hardware capabilities. The computer program always has the same purpose; there are only ever minor, and usually negative, variations in the program, such as automatic disabling of some features if the computer hardware is deficient. Of course, the program is thousands of lines of complicated programming code.

Should a computer user, upon discovering the program’s ability to adapt, claim the program must have “adapted its way into existence”!? Of course not—yet this is what evolutionists effectively believe. How much more absurd, then, would it be to ridicule those who believe the program had a programmer by pointing out its adaptive capabilities—which were intentionally designed by the programmer!

The closing paragraph of Hitchens’ article indicates that creation is not all he misunderstands about the biblical worldview. He writes:

[T]o the old theistic question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” we can now counterpose . . . the foreseeable heat death of the universe . . . and the not-so-far-off collision of our own galaxy with Andromeda . . . . So, the question can and must be rephrased: “Why will our brief ‘something’ so soon be replaced with nothing?” It’s only once we shake our own innate belief in linear progression and consider the many recessions we have undergone and will undergo that we can grasp the gross stupidity of those who repose their faith in divine providence and godly design.

Frustrating as Hitchens’ juvenile rhetoric may be, it’s at least a reminder to keep him and others in need of salvation in your prayers.

3. Space.com: “Solar Systems Like Ours May Be Rare”

Two weeks ago, we covered a Space.com article on the rarity and specialness of Earth. Now it’s time to look at the uniqueness of our solar system.

Space.com’s Clara Moskowitz writes: “a new study indicates our setup”—our solar system, that is—“may be rare indeed.” That idea may fly in the face of astronomers who claim that clones of Earth must certainly be common in our galaxy.

Moskowitz reports on a group of astronomers led by University of California–Berkeley astrophysicist Joshua Eisner. Eisner’s team surveyed stars similar to our own sun—about 250 of them—in the Orion nebula open cluster, yet the team found that not even 10 percent are surrounded by enough dust for a Jupiter-sized planet to result.

That might seem trivial for those who don’t realize that Jupiter is often credited with protecting (and fostering, in the evolutionary worldview) life on earth by acting as a high-gravity “vacuum cleaner” to keep asteroids and other debris away from Earth.

According to Eisner, astronomers have discovered that only about 6–10 percent of stars have Jupiter-size planets, consistent with the predictions of the team’s survey. Thus, in Eisner’s words, our solar system “may be the exception rather than the rule.”

Because of that, Moskowitz writes that if the predictions of Eisner’s work are correct, “it may mean that extraterrestrial life is rare as well.”

Everything we learn continues to point to the fact that Earth and its astronomical environment are anything but ordinary—in fact, our planet and solar system are unique. Other than holding on to faith that clones of Earth “must” be out there, or perhaps believing we are simply the extremely lucky winners of a galaxy-wide lottery (for hospitable conditions), the research affirms God’s special care in crafting our home in the universe.

4. ScienceNOW: “Decoding the Pale Horse”

Those beautiful white horses nearly everyone loves share a common ancestor from just over 2,500 years ago, according to research from a Swedish team.

The team identified the genetic mutation that creates light coloring on horses—though the mutation may also cause premature death. While “gray” horses (white or light gray) begin a dark gray color, a hypothetical “gray gene” causes them to lighten and turn pale gray or white by the age of eight.

The scientists analyzed parts of the genomes of 727 gray horses and 131 non-gray horses, discovering that all the gray horses—but none of the non-grays—had a duplication of about 4,600 base pairs in one gene. The gene, known as STX17, has no known function, but its ubiquity in gray horses indicates that they had a common ancestor. In fact, the team concluded humans probably selected for the gene because of the resulting color.

Sadly, three quarters of gray horses develop fatal cancer in their pigmentation cells by age 15. Investigating this, the researchers found that STX17 is more active in melanoma cells than in other tissue cells. Team leader Leif Andersson of the University of Uppsala thinks the duplication of STX17 could cause an overproduction of the pigmentation cells, leading to cancer.

The recent “development” of gray horses, along with the artificial process of selection that likely created them, is a reminder that we can easily explain the diversity of life we see around us: rapid speciation, along with natural and artificial selection, in the descendants of the animals that stepped off the Ark—themselves descendants of the original created kinds.

5. BBC News: “Grunting Fish Yield Vocal Clues”

The latest entities speaking in favor of evolution may be 400-million-year-old fish, according to researchers reporting in the journal Science.

The researchers studied toadfish and their kin, midshipman fish, which use a variety of “grunts” to attract mates while intimidating the competition. Cornell University’s Andrew Bass, the aptly named lead author of the research, commented on fish communication habits:

“You’ll hear frogs calling, birds singing and we hear this all the time—we are familiar with this. But I think it’s fair to say that most people are unaware of the fact that many fish use sound for social communication. . . . They make different kinds of sounds in different social contexts. Just as birds will use one call to attract a mate and another call to scare a rival off, the fish do exactly the same thing.”

For example, the researchers discovered the fish use a “deep hum” to lure in females, while using a “sharp grunt” to defend their territory.

The team then analyzed the fish brains to determine what part is responsible for the vocal patterning. The “astonishing” surprise? The neural networks for vocalization in the fish brains are in the same region as in frog, bird, and primate brains. This spurred Bass to exclaim in astonishment, “Oh my god, this is all in the same place.”

Then, perhaps ironically despite the flippant divine reference, comes the evolutionary interpretation. For evolutionists, if a supposed lineage of creatures exhibits a similar anatomical feature, biological ability, or gene, the assumption is that it must have evolved once and then descended through the following generations. This is regardless of any differences between the feature/ability/gene in the organisms, since the differences are chalked up to mutations over the years. Thus, Bass’s team assumes the ability of vertebrates to vocalize comes from fish; since bony fishes date back to 400 million years ago (in the evolutionary interpretation of the fossil record), the team slapped the date of 400 million years on their fishy find.

In fact, when one presupposes the family tree of evolution, both similarities and differences become “evidence” to reinforce the evolutionary worldview. Morphological similarities? They’re considered signs of common descent or “convergent evolution.” Morphological differences? They’re used as signposts for when lineages diverged.

From the creation perspective, it makes complete sense that God, when fashioning numerous vocalizing creatures during Creation Week, would arrange their brains with some similarities—even though there are obviously many differences between fish, frogs, birds, and primates (to say the least)!

6. PhysOrg: “Dutch Researchers Take Flight with Three-Gram ‘Dragonfly’”

Bzzzzzz! Visitors to the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands might notice what looks like a dragonfly zipping past their ears—but it may actually be the robotic DelFly Micro air vehicle.

Weighing in at only three grams, DelFly Micro is the third in a line of small robotic air vehicles built at Delft University of Technology. The “fly” sustains flight through flapping tiny wings and has a tiny built-in camera with image recognition software. Its one gram battery will power it at a speed up to 16 feet (5m) per second for around three minutes.

Although currently designed to be flown by remote control, the engineers hope the next incarnation of the fly, DelFly NaNo, will be able to fly on its own using improved image recognition software. The engineers hope to eventually market the DelFlies as explorers into dangerous environments.

“The basic principle of the DelFly is derived from nature,” explains the Delft University of Technology press release. Indeed, such engineering “redesign” of biology is a continual demonstration of the ingenuity of the Creator, which amazes us all the more with each discovery!

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