The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, was switched on for the first time this week amid reports it will either re-create the big bang or create world-devouring black holes. So which is it?
Thankfully for residents of earth, rumors of dangerous black holes have been strongly dismissed by physicists, although lawsuits against the LHC are pending in the European Court of Human Rights and in the U.S. state of Hawaii. Meanwhile, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), parent to the LHC, is eager to begin the full-energy proton–proton collisions the LHC was built for following fine-tuning over the next several months.
The idea behind the 17-mile-long (27 km) circular LHC is to fire two proton beams at one another. Over one thousand magnets in the structure cooperate to accelerate the beams to very, very close to the speed of light; then, at predetermined locations, the beams intersect and individual protons collide. Specialized detectors near these locations will look for interesting subatomic physics, including searching for the much-ballyhooed Higgs boson. That elusive particle, theorized but never observed, will—if detected—explain to physicists “why matter has mass.”
But will such experiments prove the big bang and undo creationist cosmologies? Only in the minds of those who already believe in the big bang! For a closer look at the operation, experiments, rumored dangers, and possible conclusions of the LHC, see this week’s article A Miniature Big Bang or More Hot Air?
They may not resemble Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, but will the creations of molecular biologist Jack Szostak escape the lab and run wild—or just in the minds of evolutionists?
A team led by Szostak, himself of the Harvard Medical School, is doing its best to construct simple cell models that, WIRED magazine explains, “can almost be called life.” In reality, the cells are lipid bubbles containing bits of replicating nucleic acids. WIRED’s Alexis Madrigal writes:
Szostak said in a phone interview. “What we can do now is copy a limited set of simple [genetic] sequences, but we need to be able to copy arbitrary sequences so that sequences could evolve that do something useful.”
By doing “something useful” for the cell, these genes would launch the new form of life down the Darwinian evolutionary path similar to the one that our oldest living ancestors must have traveled. Though where selective pressure will lead the new form of life is impossible to know.
For now, however, the cells are unable to do much of anything: “[t]he replication isn't wholly autonomous,” according to the article, and the team must use pre-existing fatty molecules and borrow from existing life to get the nucleic acids.
Of course, building an even very primitive functioning “cell” (if it can be done) is no easy task. Madrigal explains that the “life” Szostak is working on is nowhere near as complex as existing life: “Modern life is far more complex than the simple systems that Szostak and others are working on,” she writes, adding that Szostak’s “protocells don't look anything like the cells that we have in our bodies.” She continues:
Modern cells accomplish this feat [moving/organizing materials] with an immense amount of molecular machinery. In fact, some of the chemical syntheses that simple plants and algae can accomplish far outstrip human technologies. Even the most primitive forms of life possess protein machines that allow them to import nutrients across their complex cell membranes and build the molecules that then carry out the cell's bidding.
Those specialized components would have taken many, many generations to evolve . . . so the first life would have been much simpler.
As is evident, scientists run into by-faith stories about the origin of life when trying to justify and devise how to create such simple life forms. Madrigal breaks up the entire line of evolutionary origin-of-life research by pointing out, “The entire line of research, though, begs the question: where would DNA, or any other material carrying instructions for replication, have come from?”
Meanwhile, some evolutionists—such as University of California–San Diego chemist Jeffrey Bada—are giving up hope that we’ll ever know what (allegedly) spawned the first life. “[The researchers’] point, and how we all view it, is that it’s a nice model, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it happened that way,” Madrigal reports him as saying.
Madrigal concludes her article by pointing out that if the Szostak team succeeds in creating artificial life, “human beings, ourselves the product of evolution from the most primitive organisms, would have created an alternative path to imbuing matter with the properties of life,” since other models for the origin of life have inorganic molecules as the “container,” rather than organic fatty acid membranes.
So, our conclusion on this research: evolutionary scientists are trying to intelligently design (but as of yet haven’t succeeded) a self-replicating organism nowhere near as complex as actual (extant) life via chemicals and mechanisms that are not agreed upon in the hopes that it will somehow prove their by-faith hypotheses about how a less-complex-than-real-life organism could have, maybe, given rise to life as we know it (or not) through millions of years of accidental mutation. And—even though we will never know how it “really happened,” we should take this as proof that such origin of life stories are superior to the Bible’s clear account in Genesis?
It’s a video game that gives you your very own universe and lets you “play god”—so what’s the story of this latest venue for evolution?
This week, video game publisher Electronic Arts released Spore, a wide-ranging video game that lets the player fill in for God—using a distorted imitation of theistic evolution.
Designed by Will Wright, creator of the popular video game The Sims, Spore has the player manage the evolution of a species from puddle-surfing protozoan all the way up to interplanetary-sailing intelligent life. Of course, random chance doesn’t guide the player’s species; rather, the game allows players to design creatures that then compete to survive. “The game’s powerful design tools allow players to follow their imaginations and create a giant race of friendly-looking teddy bears, if they like, or monsters that look as if they might have been plucked from a horror movie,” the Post’s Mike Musgrove notes. He also explains the basic operation of the game:
As a species begins to thrive, players earn “DNA points” that can be spent on developing better versions of next-generation creatures. A certain type of leg or foot might make a player’s creature run faster or jump higher. The development options a player is shown are based on his or her previous rounds of choices; that teddy-bear species wouldn't be able to quickly evolve into a two-headed-snake species, in other words. . . . [T]here isn’t exactly a way to “win” the game. As a player’s pet species develops the technology to venture into space, Spore users can keep exploring the virtual universe for as long as they wish.
Furthermore, as a player’s “creations evolve” (an interesting bit of oxymoron), they are uploaded to a central Sporepedia server and make their way into other players’ universes as well.
And lest there be any misunderstandings, let’s make it clear: this game in no way recreates the randomness of genetic mutations that, evolutionists allege, has driven life from unicellular to space-faring. Instead, as an MSNBC article explains:
The game is divided into five chapters. Each represents a step on the evolutionary ladder. The initial stage occurs under the microscope, seconds after a comet seeds your planet with the building blocks for life. . . . Soon, you grow legs and enter the second stage of the game. Now on dry land, you work in a pack to befriend rival creatures or drive them to extinction.
Also, instead of millions of years, MSNBC reports that it takes only about an hour to complete each stage and move on to the next. Thus, there is no real “evolution” going on whatsoever; only natural selection that determines whether your creations survive against predators and starvation, and then bursts of so-called “evolution” that actually allow the player to intelligently design their creature for the next stage.
As Carl Zimmer reports in a New York Times article, “The step-by-step process by which Spore’s creatures change does not have much to do with real evolution.” He even quotes Yale scientist Richard Prum, who comments that “The mechanism [of evolution in Spore] is severely messed up.”
Zimmer later adds, “Even as scientists praise Spore, they voice concerns about how the game does not match evolution. In the real world, new traits [allegedly] evolve as mutations arise and spread gradually through entire populations. Winning Spore’s DNA points does not work even as a remote metaphor.”
Nevertheless, Will Wright claims, “We wanted to convey the sense that evolution can bring up a surprising diversity of weird, interesting, strange things,” even though the diversity generated by the game is the product of years of intelligent design—first on the part of the game creators, and now on the part of players who will build their species.
And there’s little doubt that the differences between the game and actual evolutionary hypotheses will be lost on many of Spore’s players—something that Yale scientist Thomas Near apparently does not mind. “This may be totally off about how evolution works, but I’d much rather be dealing with a student who says, ‘OK, I have no problem with evolution; I think about it the same way I think about gravity.’ If it does that, it’ll be great.”
Of course, it remains to be seen just how big of a success Spore will be—and how much influence it will have on young minds. The Post notes that in addition to versions for Windows and Macintosh computers, Spore will be released for the iPhone, Nintendo DS, and possible game console systems. Parents should be very careful that their children, if and when they encounter the game, aren’t misled into thinking the fantasies of a video game are representative of the actual history of life!
An ancient “fossil forest” has been discovered in American coal mines, reports BBC News. Could these trees have been from the time of Noah?
One such forest was identified last year, but since then, five more examples have been found in mine ceilings in the U.S. state of Illinois. According to Howard Falcon-Lang, a British researcher who helped identify the find, they are the “largest fossil forests found anywhere in the world at any point in geological time.”
According to Falcon-Lang and other researchers, the forests (which are “stacked one on top of another”) grew within a few million years of each other, all around 300 million years ago.
Falcon-Lang also lauds how “perfectly preserved” many of the specimens were. According to the BBC report, “It appears the ancient land experienced repeated periods of subsidence and flooding which buried the forests in a vertical sequence.”
Or could it have been that rather than successive floods burying forests separated by millions of years, successive waves of water flow carrying tree stumps and forest debris formed the coal beds with upright stumps due to the heavier root ends sinking vertically down, all buried catastrophically (accounting for the excellent preservation) by the work of a single, havoc-wreaking global Flood and its aftermath?
The place is the Grand Canyon, and the story is an indisputable case of rapid erosion caused by massive amounts of water.
In an edition of News to Note this past March, we covered the then-upcoming flooding of the Grand Canyon that would be caused by the opening of the Glen Canyon Dam. The flood was planned as part of ongoing efforts to restore an ecosystem that was altered by the Glen Canyon Dam. We noted then:
The planned flood will increase Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon to 41,000 cubic feet (1161 m3) per second for almost three days and will “scour and reshape miles of sandy banks on the floor of the Grand Canyon.”
Our commentary added that the local flood would mimic (to a lesser degree) the power of Noah’s Flood, the receding of which carved the Grand Canyon.
The flood occurred as planned in March. Now, the Associated Press reports that the erosive power of the Glen Canyon was even greater than scientists expected:
Water was released from the Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona–Utah border in March to mimic natural flooding. Scientists had expected erosion following the flood but they hadn’t expected so much so fast.
According to John Hammill, head of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, the rapid erosion occurred because extra water was later released into the canyon from Lake Powell, which had excess water.
It’s fascinating to see how the power of water repeatedly exceeds expectations. This reminds us that if smaller-scale, shorter-lasting local floods can reshape landscapes today, the global-scale, year-long Flood—which incorporated Genesis 7:11—could have reshaped the entire earth in Noah’s day.
Hours of research continue to be spent investigating—and trying to emulate—the incredible “sticky” gecko foot, one of God’s most crafty creations.
Researchers at the University of California–Berkeley are taking steady steps toward perfecting a synthetic version of the adhesive geckos rely on to scale walls and even ceilings. The latest breakthrough: an adhesive that cleans itself, without using water or chemicals, after each use, just like the tiny hairs on gecko’s toes.
The self-cleaning ability would allow the adhesive to remain sticky even after encountering dirty surfaces, which seems barely possible because of the way sticky surfaces usually attract grime.
“It goes completely against our everyday experience with sticky tapes, which are ‘magnets’ for dirt and can’t be reused,” explained Berkeley’s Ron Fearing, team leader. “With our gecko adhesive, we have been able to create the first material that is adhesive and yet cleans itself a little bit with every contact.”
Shedding larger dirt particles, however, remains a problem that will require more research into the gecko toe hairs. The team also looks to improve adhesion over rough surfaces.
The goal for the research is building “truly all-terrain robots,” according to Fearing, suggesting such robots may one day “scamper up walls and across ceilings in everyday environments rather than only on clean glass . . . to go anywhere they are needed, perhaps in the search for survivors after a disaster.”
And all of it, of course, is inspired by God’s incredible gecko—one of many animal capabilities scientists are still working to understand and replicate.
It may be neither a unicorn nor a dinosaur, but the African okapi, which appears to be a strange combination of giraffe and zebra, was nonetheless long rumored to be a “mythical animal.”
While its existence was originally confirmed at the beginning of last century, images of the okapi in the wild remained nonexistent—until now. The new images are thanks to work by the Zoological Society of London and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation, and were taken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the only place the okapi is known to live in the wild.
Noelle Kumpel, manager of the Bushmeat and Forests Conservation Program at the Zoological Society of London, took the pictures via 18 prearranged cameras. “To have captured the first-ever photographs of such a charismatic creature is amazing,” she commented. The difficulty of photographing okapis in the past has been in a large part due to their acute hearing and effective camouflage.
In three images released, an okapi is shown looking toward the camera, walking away from the camera, and—in a photo taken at night—an okapi is shown standing with its side to the camera. The pictures together showcase the okapi’s giraffe-like face and legs, horse-like neck, and famous zebra stripes on its hind legs.
The okapi oddity can remind us of two important ideas: first, that today’s animals are descended from the original created kinds in Genesis, and thus the similarities between giraffes, zebras, and okapis may be explained by common descent—but only as far as a created kind, not back to an amoeba.
Second, the existence of the okapi reminds us that some creatures may have eluded human contact for years—even, perhaps, the last living dinosaurs (if, indeed, they are extinct). This would help explain stories of dinosaur-like creatures even in the past millennium.
Creationists, be on the lookout: a Hollywood actor is the latest to pile ridicule on young-earth ideas.
Outspoken American movie star Matt Damon weighed in on the U.S. presidential election—and young-earth creationism—in a headline-making interview this week. In addition to criticizing Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for other reasons, Damon directly attacked her possibly young-earth views:
“I need to know if she really thinks that dinosaurs were really here 4,000 years ago. I want to know that. Because she’s going to have the nuclear codes. I want to know that and I want to know if she tried to ban books. We can’t have that.”
Damon’s views, of course, sadly reflect those of many Americans: both in the idea that creationists are too stupid or insane to be trusted with real decision-making, and in the (very mistaken, unfounded) idea that creationists want to ban books. Perhaps it doesn’t matter to Damon that many of the great scientists of the past were ardent biblical creationists. And it’s certainly clear that he’s not familiar with our stance on teaching evolution in schools, since we are certainly not in favor of banning books.
For more on Sarah Palin and her possible creation views, take a look at Is She Really a Creationist? To read about whether dinosaurs may have walked the earth 4,000 years ago (or more recently), see What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?
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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