1. MSNBC: “Mars Soil May Not Be So Good for Life”

In the emotional soap opera that is the search for life on Mars, one of the main players—the habitability of Martian soil—may have just lapsed into a coma.

Overturning reports from last month that Martian soil may be nutritional enough for asparagus to grow, a new report from the Phoenix lander indicates that it may not be as much of a gardener’s dream as first hoped.

Instead, the latest results show that the dirt from the lander’s location may contain perchlorates, highly oxidizing substances that could doom “any potential life.”

NASA personnel quickly clarified the meaning of the discovery, especially in the face of unexplained rumors that it had briefed the White House on Martian life. “Finding perchlorates is neither good nor bad for life, but it does make us reassess how we think about life on Mars,” said the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Michael Hecht in a NASA news release.

“Initial MECA analyses suggested Earthlike soil,” commented Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith. “Further analysis has revealed un-Earthlike aspects of the soil chemistry.”

MECA, short for Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer, is one of Phoenix’s on-board instruments. While it detected the perchlorate, another on-board instrument, TEGA (Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer), did not detect the substance.

“This is surprising since an earlier TEGA measurement of surface materials was consistent with but not conclusive of the presence of perchlorate,” Smith added.

Adding to the confusing pile of detections and non-detections is the specter of contamination from earth. Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, cautioned that “when surprising results are found, we want to review and assure our extensive pre-launch contamination control processes covered this potential.”

And so the long-running soap opera in the search for life on Mars goes on. Even in the ups and downs, and in the many uncertainties in-between, many people—most of them Darwinian evolutionists—cling close to their faith that life was once on Mars and will, sooner or later, be discovered. Of course, the view doesn’t line up with the evidence so far; but for evolutionists, any evidence that suggests we may be alone in the universe is bound to generate more than a little cognitive dissonance.

2. LiveScience: “How Snakes Got Their Fangs”

If the riddle of where fangs fit into snake evolution has been gnawing at you, biologists may have come up with an answer.

Scientists reporting in the journal Nature took on the task of explaining how snakes could have evolved their fearsome fangs from regular teeth—a question all the more puzzling since some snakes’ fangs are located at the front of their mouth, whereas other snakes have fangs near the back of their mouth.

Examples of front-fanged snakes include the vipers, night adders, cobras, rattlesnakes, and coral snakes. But these famous snakes are in the minority. Other snakes, including rat snakes and grass snakes, have fangs in the back of their mouth.

Researchers at Leiden University looked at fang development in 96 embryos from eight snake species, all of them living today, in search of an answer for why fangs evolved in a different location in the different species.

The team’s research revealed that both front and rear fangs develop from separate teeth-forming tissue in the back of the mouth, as opposed to non-venomous snakes (and humans), for whom all upper teeth and all lower teeth sprout from a single upper and a single lower dental tissue.

For snakes with frontally located fangs, the fangs are displaced toward the front as the embryo develops by the rapid growth of the upper jaw. On other snakes, the fangs remain in place, and the mouth grows in front of them as a result.

So how have evolutionists explained the divergence? “If you want to eat a very dangerous prey, like a big rat with razor-sharp rat teeth, then it would be more advantageous to have your fangs in front of the mouth so you can just bite it quickly and then let go,” explained lead researcher Freek Vonk.

According to herpetologist David Kizirian of the American Museum of Natural History, this explanation “sheds light on one of those nagging questions in herpetology—how did a diversity of fang types among snakes evolve?” Yet explaining why a biological feature may confer an advantage to its owner isn’t the same as giving evidence that it evolved or how it evolved!

Vonk added, “The snake venom system is one of the most advanced bioweapon systems in the natural world. There is not a comparable structure as advanced, as sophisticated, as for example a rattlesnake fang and venom gland.” While we may wonder what fangs and venom glands were originally designed for (if they were present before the fall—but see item #4 below), there is ample evidence that it was indeed designed. Coming up with a story about why it would be advantageous to have fangs in a certain location doesn’t explain how the genetic information for fangs and a venom system could have appeared out of nowhere.

3. BBC News: “Do They Really Think the Earth Is Flat?”

They’re a tiny minority of untrained, pseudoscientific hacks who—partially based on an overly literal interpretation of Scripture—buy into a disproven, centuries-old myth rather than accepting well-established modern science.

That may sound like familiar rhetoric, but in this case, the subject at hand is not young-earth creationism but instead the idea that the earth is flat (two ideas which are not synonymous, by the way!).

BBC took a look at flat-earth advocates who apparently are still around, “[o]n the internet and in small meeting rooms in Britain and the US,” although our cursory review of flat-earther sites on the Internet didn’t convince us that any of them (the sites or the advocates) weren’t farcical. BBC News even asks, “Are they really out there or is it all an elaborate prank?”

Assuming for a moment there are true flat-earthers out there (and assuming their beliefs are represented accurately on the web), it may seem strange for us to criticize them. After all, aren’t they, too, fighting an uphill battle against presuppositions disguised as objective science? And aren’t they being faithful to Scripture as opposed to “compromisers” like us who say the earth is round?

While there may be some cursory similarities, the differences are far more notable:

  • Whether the earth is flat or spherical is entirely within the domain of operations science, where repeatable experimentation can disprove hypotheses. Flat-earthers make falsifiable claims that scientific investigation can verify or falsify (but see below). This is considerably different from the origins science of the creation/evolution controversy, which covers interpretations of data and models of unrepeatable historical events. See Do Creationists Reject Science? for more on different types of science.
  • Flat-earthism is forced to rely on conspiracy theories, such as dismissing photographs from space and other satellite data as “hoaxes,” along with stories of circumnavigation. In other words, unless you’ve personally been into outer space to see the roundness of the earth, flat-earthers will claim you’ve been duped by NASA, et al. And if you claim to have been to space, they will label you as part of the conspiracy!
  • Unlike the origins controversy, the issue of whether the earth is flat does not undermine the rest of scientific inquiry. Whether we were created in the image of God or evolved through millions of years of accidental mutations, vicious natural selection, and so forth gives us very different starting points when we consider whether man can be logical, moral, and so forth.
  • From the scant information offered by flat-earther websites, there is no indication that any flat-earthers have specific training in the fields of geology, physics, or planetary science. On the other hand, young-earth creationist groups like Answers in Genesis employ scientists with extensive training in fields related to the origins controversy. For example, AiG employs geologist Andrew Snelling, astrophysicist Jason Lisle, molecular geneticist Georgia Purdom, anatomist and biologist David Menton, and historian of geology Terry Mortenson, all of whom hold PhD’s in their fields from major universities.
  • Unlike young-earth creationism, flat-earthism is not scriptural and has no profound theological implications. There are (mostly poetic) passages that could be cited by flat-earthers, such as Revelation 7:1, which refers to the “four corners of the earth”—but these are most clearly interpreted as figurative.

There are even experiments ordinary individuals can conduct to prove the curvature of the earth—watching ships sail over the horizon, for instance, or approaching a skyscraper-laden city on a plain from far away. The idea that most people believed in a flat earth until the time of Columbus, and that many resisted the idea even after that time because of the Bible, is a widely discredited myth that nonetheless still deceives some.

4. MSNBC: “110-Ton Shark’s Bite More Powerful than T. rex’s”

T. rex, stay out of the water: the ancient giant shark megalodon had a bite far more powerful than yours!

Researchers at the University of New South Wales used “sophisticated computational techniques,” reports LiveScience, to generate 3-D models and analyze what the megalodon bite may have been like. The shark is thought to have grown to more than 50 feet (15m) long and may have weighed over 100 tons, far larger than the infamous great white shark.

The source for the researchers’ work was a set of X-rays of a male great white shark. Based on the X-rays, the scientists constructed a computer model that recreates the skull, jaws, and muscles of the shark “as nearly 2 million tiny connected parts.” Team member Stephen Wroe, a biomechanist and paleontologist at the University of New South Wales, explained, “It takes a lot of computing power to analyze something as relatively simple as a set of jaws, since you're dealing with all sorts of complex shapes in biology.”

Based on existing evidence and the computer models, the team concluded that the largest great white sharks have a bite force of up to 2 tons—more than 3 times as strong a bite as an African lion, and more than 20 times stronger than the human bite. Then the team turned to megalodon, estimating that its bite was 6 to 10 times stronger than the great white’s—that is, up to 200 times stronger than a human bite and several times stronger than the T. rex’s may have been!

Scientists believe megalodon used those jaws to first chomp off the tails and flippers of large whales, then devour the rest. By attacking with a “single horrendously traumatizing bite,” Wroe said, megalodon could then escape reprisals and wait for its victim to bleed to death.

Now comes the twist—however fearsome the megalodon’s bite may have been, the force of its bite was actually weaker than a cat or a dog’s relative to its weight! Its overwhelming strength—and likely effectiveness—was mostly due to its large size and sharp teeth. Of course, thinking of the megalodon’s “weak” pound-for-pound bite might be of little comfort if one were chasing after you!

As with snake fangs in item #2, many of us may wonder why God would have created a monster shark with such a killer bite. The answer, starting with Scripture (Genesis 3), is that God either didn’t create the original shark kind(s) with such a menacing mouth (i.e., it was created but nascent, or created later), or the original shark kind(s) used their bites for herbivorous purposes. Millennia after the Fall, and after the introduction of carnivory, with natural selection perhaps favoring some of the more savage animals in that time, it’s no surprise that we have difficulty imagining friendly sharks or lions lying down with lambs.

For more on this topic, be sure to read the excellent overview in the New Answers Book, How Did Defense/Attack Structures Come About?

5. MSNBC/AP: “Ancient Moss, Insects Found in Antarctica”

Antarctica may be a barren, largely deserted land of ice today, but remains of moss and insects that once lived there have been uncovered.

Geoscientist Adam Lewis of North Dakota State University was studying Antarctica’s ice cover when he and colleagues encountered the “essentially freeze-dried”—not fossilized, that is—remains of moss at the bottom of a valley.

“We knew we shouldn’t expect to see something like that,” Lewis told the Associated Press. Along with the moss, further study revealed the remains of tiny crustaceans, midges, and beetles—and pollen from beech trees and other plants.

Previously, some mosses and insects have been found in the coastal edges of Antarctica, but this is the farthest inland any signs of life have been uncovered.

Speaking to the fact that the remains aren’t fossilized, Lewis commented, “The really cool thing is that all the details are still there. These are actually the plant tissues themselves.” This is despite the fact that Lewis and his colleagues believe the remains are from a warmer and wetter Antarctica 14 million years ago.

The global flood would have caused substantial climate change not only during its reign, but also long after the waters receded (as climatologist Michael Oard outlines in The Genesis flood caused the Ice Age). The new continents, themselves formed in the wake (pardon any pun) of the Flood through catastrophic plate tectonics, would have undergone this climate change, one result of which was freeze-dried mosses and insects near the South Pole—from a few thousand years ago.

6. Reuters: “Ancestor of T-Rex Unearthed in Poland”

Paleontologists working in Poland have unearthed “the Dragon”—a supposed ancestor of T. rex with 2 inch (7cm) teeth.

According to codiscoverer Tomasz Sulej of the Polish Science Academy, the Dragon—which has yet to receive a formal name—lived around 200 million years ago and likely preyed on plant-eating, hippopotamus-like dicynodons. The team had previously found a dicynodon at the site.

Discussing the Dragon, Sulej said, “This is a completely new type of dinosaur that was so far unknown. Nobody even expected that members of this group lived in that time, so this gives us new knowledge about the whole evolution of the T. rex group.” Reuters did not report why Sulej’s team thinks the Dragon was an ancestor of T. rex, though we presume it is the simple combination of morphological similarity and, based on the geologic column, one fossil “preceding” the other.

Sulej’s team is also unwittingly (we presume) advertising a point young-earth creationists often make: dragon legends are most easily interpreted as actual accounts (sometimes corrupted over time) of real human encounters with dinosaurs. This is the best explanation for the otherwise uncanny resemblance of dragons to dinosaurs—and explains why, e.g., Chinese villagers have dug up dinosaur bones for centuries, believing them to be dragon bones.

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