1. ScienceDaily: “‘Armored’ Fish Study Helps Strengthen Darwin's Natural Selection Theory”

It’s yet another rock-solid proof of Darwin’s theory—at least in the eyes of Darwinists.

University of British Columbia scientists investigated the genetic changes of freshwater sticklebacks, concluding that their study “provides further evidence for Darwin’s theory of natural selection.” But is it really so?

Rowan Barrett, Sean Rogers, and Dolph Schluter wondered whether evolution can explain the reduced armor plating on freshwater sticklebacks, which are larger than their marine kin. Evolutionists think marine sticklebacks “invaded” freshwater lakes and streams during an ice age, during which time they gradually lost their bony armor.

The researchers based their work on the discovery of a mutant gene found in sticklebacks that prohibits the growth of the armor. While the gene is found in less than one percent of marine sticklebacks, it is quite common in the freshwater variety. Could this gene explain the transition?

The team relocated 200 marine sticklebacks that carry the armor-reduction allele to “experimental” freshwater ponds. There, the team observed a “significant increase” in the frequency of the allele in the offspring of the 200: a.k.a. “evidence that natural selection favors reduced armor in freshwater,” according to Barrett.

Interestingly, those individuals carrying the mutant allele are also significantly larger—perhaps growing more because they aren’t expending as much energy developing armor. And so, in the absence of significant predation, the “more fit” armorless sticklebacks survive and reproduce more.

Barrett claims the study backs up Darwin’s theory “by showing that environmental conditions can directly impact genes controlling physical traits that affect the survival of species.” Of course, if this is all Darwin’s theory was, we would agree. (Not only is that not the case, but the basic idea of natural selection was around before Darwin!) However, Darwin and his followers argue that phenotypic variations like these, operating within the mechanism of natural selection, can explain how unicellular organisms mutated all the way up the ladder to humans. The problem (for Darwinists) is that such “mistakes,” if one can call them that, would have to “accidentally” confer a great deal of new genetic information, something that has never been backed up in the lab or in nature.

Instead, there are plentiful examples—including possibly this one—of mutations destroying genetic information, such as the code for building armor. In some situations, these sort of mutations end up helping the organism, even enabling individuals to grow larger. (For example, mutations that result in beetles that can’t fly are beneficial on windy islands!) Yet an eternity of mutations like this will never lead to a more complex organism.

So, then, is this evolution? It depends. When one defines evolution as simply “changes in genotype (or phenotype) frequency in a population over time” (or similarly), then this is certainly “evolution,” though it is a sort of evolution that is fully compatible with Scripture (information-reducing, within kind, etc.). But this study in no way supports “evolution” as defined as “the common descent of all forms of life from a single microscopic ancestor”—nor do other such studies, including a similar stickleback study we reported on in News to Note, May 24, 2008, item #5.

2. ScienceDaily: “Bone Parts Don't Add Up to Conclusion of Hobbit-like Palauan Dwarfs”

News broke last week of the misinterpretation of Palauan bone fragments, which had led to the misidentification of a modern human as something else. It isn’t the first time!

The original interpretation of the bone fragments was news less than a half-year ago (not to be confused with the Indonesian hobbits, by the way), when we reported in News to Note, March 15, 2008, item #2:

“Thousands” of human bones have been unearthed on the Pacific island Palau, reports National Geographic News. The bones belonged to “numerous individuals,” some of whom were “of particularly small size.” More hobbits, perhaps?

Now, scientists from three universities have joined to refute the hobbit conclusion, devised by research Lee Berger and colleagues at the University of Witwatersrand. The new team of researchers scathingly critiques Berger’s conclusion as a misinterpretation of “modern, normal-sized hunters and gatherers.”

Greg Nelson of the University of Oregon, Scott Fitzpatrick of North Carolina State University, and Geoffrey Clark of Australian National University point out three main criticisms of Berger’s research, in addition to alleging that Berger “failed to review existing documentation.”

First, Berger used small femoral heads—the “balls” that attach the thighbone to the hip—as evidence for hobbits. However, Nelson, Fitzpatrick, and Clark have discovered thigh bones from modern humans (albeit somewhat shorter, with females averaging just over 5 feet [152 cm] tall) with femoral heads smaller than those Berger discovered.

Second, Berger used “fragmentary cranial evidence” in an attempt to show that his hobbits had brow ridges, similar to Neanderthals. Nelson, Fitzpatrick, and Clark argue that all the cranial measurements they analyzed pointed to modern-size heads. Furthermore, they point out that limestone in the island’s water can create “the easily misinterpreted lumpy appearance on brow ridges.”

Finally, Berger used the large teeth he found as evidence for megadontism, “a condition common in the pre-modern, small-bodied hominins.” Nelson, Fitzpatrick, and Clark dispute this, countering that large teeth are common in hunter-gatherer societies, such as ancient Palau.

“Our evidence indicates the earliest inhabitants of Palau were of normal stature, and it counters the evidence that Berger, et al., presented in their paper indicating there was a reduced stature population in early Palau,” explained Nelson. “Our research from whole bones and whole skeletons indicates that the earliest individuals in Palau were of normal stature but gracile. In other words, they were thin.”

So what was yesterday’s evidence of premodern apemen has now been thoroughly refuted—by scientists we presume are evolutionists, no less—as evidence that easily fits within the framework of modern humans. When looking at alleged apemen, it’s crucial to remember the great deal of skeletal variation even within existing human (and ape) populations, in addition to the differences in populations that may now be “extinct” (e.g., the fully modern Neanderthals)—not to mention the fallibility of humans, whether scientists or not, when interpreting the data they’ve collected.

Nelson also said that two of Berger’s “primary mistakes were his not understanding the variation in the skeletal population in which he was working [and] using fragmentary remains again in a situation where he didn’t understand variation.” There are so many lessons a careful reader can learn from this whole scenario, but here is at least one case-in-point for a need for caution that we would like to point out to all who are interested in human/“hominid” fossils. Often minor skeletal differences are interpreted as evidence for new species or a new transitional form even when the differences can be explained by skeletal variation. And a great deal of the time, the actual skeletal evidence is scant and contested, meaning the conclusions may be long on interpretation and short on fact.

3. PhysOrg: “Finder of Key Hominid Fossil Disputes 7-Million-Year Dating”

After years of thorough dispute from creationist circles, the controversial Toumai skull—said to be the remains of an apeman—is now under another attack from evolutionists.

Critics, including the discoverer of Toumai, dispute the recent work of College de France paleontologist Michel Brunet, who National Geographic News labels Toumai’s “big defender.” Brunet, et al., published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in spring 2008 that purported to show that Toumai was approximately 7 million years old (based on radiometric dating of the soil where Toumai was found).

For Brunet and his colleagues, this study serves as more proof that Toumai represents an apeman “forebear” of humanity. But others say that the Toumai find is no more than the remains of a vulgar chimp, far too small to have been a human ancestor. National Geographic News reports:

Critics are incensed that he has given a hominid honorific (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) to a creature whose cranium, in their view, was too squashed to be that of a pre-cursor of Homo sapiens.
They calculate that Toumai's height was no more than 120 centimeters (four feet)—or that of an adult chimpanzee.

Additionally, Toumai discoverer Alain Beauvilain of the University of Paris–Nanterre disputes Brunet’s dating estimate. Beauvilain argues, in a South African Journal of Science commentary that the Toumai skull was not “unearthed” (having been a part of the soil), but rather was simply found loose on the sand in Chad, where it was discovered.

Beauvilain also pointed out in his commentary that the Toumai skull was coated with a thick, blue, iron-based mineral that had clearly endured desert weathering. Thus, he concludes that the soil around the skull, and possibly the skull itself, have been tossed and turned and eroded, and thus basing the age of the skull on the age of the surrounding soil is a futile exercise.

“How many times was it exposed and reburied by shifting sands before being picked up?” Beauvilain asks. “It’s time to set the record straight,” he added to reporters. Beauvilain aims the same guns at a jawbone dubbed Abel also found in Chad, allegedly from a 3.5-million-year-old apeman.

Also of note is what National Geographic News reports on the lineage of ape to apeman to man:

Still unclear, though, is the exact line of genealogy from these small, rather ape-like creatures to the rise of the powerfully brained Homo sapiens.

They said it—not us! When looking at the supposed apeman lineage without evolutionary lenses, it becomes clear that all individuals reasonably fit, with some variation, in the category of either extinct apes or “extinct”—but modern—humans.

4. BBC News: “Stem Cells ‘Created from Teeth'”

The work of Japanese scientists in harvesting stem cells from wisdom teeth affirms that stem cell research doesn’t have to be ethically repugnant.

A team at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has created stem cells using tissue taken from extracted wisdom teeth (which originally belonged to a 10-year-old girl). The announcement strikes another blow against proponents of ethically controversial embryonic stem cell research, which produces stem cells but destroys viable human embryos in the process.

Members of the team say the success shows that wisdom teeth could replace embryos as a source for stem cells, though they caution that it will be half a decade until their work results in practical applications.

Team leader Hajime Ogushi pointed out that, in addition to the moral superiority of stem cells from discarded teeth is the fact that the teeth had been preserved in a freezer for three years before the stem cells were extracted. “That means that it’s easy for us to stock this source of stem cells,” Ogushi explained.

The Japanese team’s work piggybacks on the research of other scientists that have shown discarded baby teeth as another morally sound source of viable stem cells. In fact, the BBC reports that some U.S. dentists are already offering to collect baby teeth and wisdom teeth for storage, in the hopes they will be useful in the future. Read more about such stem cell research that does not dishonor God in Questions for Robin Crossman, DVM, founder of Babytooth Technologies.

For more information:

5. PhysOrg: “Elephants No Dumbo At Sums: Japanese Researcher”

Move over (again), chimpanzees: it’s not only you in the animal kingdom that has calculable intelligence.

Okay, so the intelligence of chimpanzees may not quite be up to humans’, and neither is the intelligence of elephants, the subject of this item. Still, elephants, along with primates, cetaceans, and some birds, offer some spectacular examples of intelligence God designed in the animal kingdom.

In this case, Asian elephants showed off their mathematics skills under the tutorship of the University of Tokyo’s Naoko Irie. The experiment involved their “favorite” food—either apples or oranges—and required the pachyderms to select between buckets of the fruit.

Irie tested two elephants: 30-year-old female Ashya from Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, and 38-year-old Mito from Kyoto. In testing Ashya, researchers first dropped three apples into one bucket and five into another. Ashya could not see into the bucket or otherwise feel the quantity of apples. Next, researchers dropped two more apples in each bucket, then allowed Ashya to choose one of the two buckets. Five times out of six, she chose the bucket with more apples. Irie repeated the test with Mito, replacing the apples with oranges, Mito’s favorite fruit. She was also successful the majority of the time.

Irie also tested the elephants when the margin between the original fruit and the added fruit was only one (for example, five-plus-one versus three-plus-four). Thus, even when the margins were slim—or when the total numbers were larger—the elephants performed well.

“I couldn’t believe it at first: they could instantly compare numbers like six and five,” Irie told Agence France-Presse. Although many animals are able to choose the larger of two numbers, the AFP report points out, discerning between two larger numbers or between two close numbers is a much more difficult challenge.

Often, the intelligence of primates—especially chimpanzees—is portrayed as a reminder of their evolutionary proximity to man. It’s important to remember that God created several highly intelligent animal kinds, and elephants (and the original elephant kind, which probably included mammoths and mastodons) certainly qualify as one! For more on elephant intelligence, see News to Note, November 4, 2006, item #3, and News to Note, August 16, 2008, item #6.

6. LiveScience: “Is Sarah Palin a Creationist?”

U.S. vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has made a comment or two that earn her the title of “worrisome character” from evolutionists. So is she really a creationist?

As is de rigeur for political candidates on the national level, Palin—last week’s surprise nominee for vice president from the Republican Party—is undergoing scrutiny from all angles to see if she’s fit for high office. What isn’t surprising is that evolutionists are sounding the alarm because of a few pro-creation/creation education comments Palin has made.

For instance, Massimo Pigliucci writes that Palin is a “worrisome character from the point of view of science education” whose comments on creation in education are “disingenuous at best.” He compares debating origins in classrooms to debating whether or not the earth is flat, snobbishly concluding that “most kids would probably conclude that the earth is flat,” anyway! Apparently he has such a low opinion of students’ ability to discern that he prefers outright indoctrination. Never mind that the issue of a flat or spherical earth can be tested by operations science, whereas the very philosophical issue of how life came about is in the untestable domain of origins science. (Read about the difference in Do Creationists Reject Science?)

Pigliucci adds that creationism is “not even in the ballpark of the best ideas ever produced by humanity,” which, of course, isn’t the point; there are many ideas that are true even if not particularly difficult to understand (and thus not so brilliant in their realization); furthermore, creation is not an “idea” of man, but is the revelation of mankind’s Creator. It is also a basic paradigm that can hold together the undisputed facts of biology, unlike any other. In the sense that Darwinian evolution is also a paradigm, it is not particularly difficult to understand, either. The author continues:

Learning critical thinking . . . proceeds through learning about logic, about assessing evidence, and about the many ways in which human senses and reasoning abilities can fail us if we are not on guard. If students really do assimilate all of that, just one look at creationist claims would make it painfully clear that they don’t need to be further entertained.

Teaching the skills of logical argument, assessing evidence, and understanding faulty senses is of course fine with creationists. As a matter of fact, we believe critical thinking and assessment of all evolutionary data free from dogmatic interpretation will show the bankruptcy of that paradigm—regardless of whether the topic of biblical creation is discussed.

Pigliucci finishes up his tirade by flipping the old canard that the same science that gave rise to evolution also gives rise to modern technology—a patent falsehood which we also explored in Do Creationists Reject Science? “[I]f you are from . . . the Ignorance Belt you can keep falling behind in quality of life and ability to compete in a world where science plays an increasingly central role in our lives,” he ridicules ambiguously while gibing at Tim LaHaye.

As for Sarah Palin, you can read more about what she has said and what she believes in our special, in-depth look, Is She Really a Creationist?

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