1. LiveScience: “Do We Live in a Giant Cosmic Bubble?”

As secular cosmology tries to cope with the visible evidence, the explanatory model gets more and more “improbable” and “outlandish.”

Those are the adjectives used by LiveScience writer Clara Moskowitz in her report on a cosmology-changing study that will be published soon in Physical Review Letters. Why? Because the study’s hypothesis has the potential to overturn centuries of cosmological “common sense.”

First, a little background. At the heart of modern, non-biblical astrophysics and cosmology is the Copernican principle: the assumed idea that the earth is not in any special, privileged position in the universe; rather, our location is driven by chance. Thus, our observations are no more special than what we would see from any place in the universe, and we can conclude that what we see is an accurate sample of the universe as a whole.

As you might expect, this principle is firmly rooted in the idea that earth wasn’t created, which is why it “surely couldn’t” have a “favored” position of any kind. Yet there is significant evidence in favor of the alternative: the anthropic principle, which maintains that we are actually in an incredibly favored position in the universe.

While it may seem like a trivial difference at first, the Copernican principle profoundly influences modern unbiblical astrophysics—which are overwhelmingly big-bang-based (although there are also non-creationist detractors who support the alternative steady state model). And so, on questions from the existence of extraterrestrial life to the “age” of distant starlight and the universe, one’s principle preference makes a world of difference.

So here’s the latest twist: what if the earth is in an “abnormal bubble of space-time that is particularly void of matter” (Moskowitz’s words)—that is, not at all in a humdrum, typical neighborhood of the universe? That would, at the very least, challenge the validity of the Copernican principle, and could distort such observations and measurements as the speed of the universe’s expansion.

For instance, dark energy is the most popular explanation for why the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. But if we are actually in a low-matter “bubble,” the rest of the universe may appear to be farther away than it really is, perhaps eliminating the need for dark energy as an explanatory force.

Moskowitz explains using supernovas as an example. Type Ia supernovas always have the same brightness, according to astronomical models. Because of this, supernova brightness can be used as an indicator of distance. But while a dimmer supernova is (therefore) usually interpreted as being farther away, it may actually indicate that the difference in matter is causing the light to “diverge more than we would expect once it got inside our void.”

The study published in Physical Review Letters devises a way to test the two ideas, dark matter vs. the low-matter bubble, by examining numerous supernovas from the same region of space. They hope data from NASA’s planned Joint Dark Energy Mission, which is slated to observe more than 2,000 supernovas, will help answer that question.

According to Oxford University’s Tim Clifton, one of the study’s authors, “This idea that we live in a void would really be a statement that we live in a special place. The regular cosmological model is based on the idea that where we live is a typical place in the universe. This would be a contradiction to the Copernican principle.”

It will no doubt be a newsworthy discovery either way—though, as we cautioned earlier, models on whether or not the earth is “privileged” (and, the implication goes, “designed”) are always rooted in faith, and secular scientists will presumably dismiss any implications of design even if the Copernican principle is shown to be overstepping its bounds. Be sure to tune in to News to Note in 2014–2015, when the Joint Dark Energy Mission is scheduled to launch, for more!

2. BBC News: “Team Finds Earth's ‘Oldest Rocks’”

Humbly lying on the tundra shores of Canada’s Hudson Bay are the world’s oldest rocks—4.28 billion years old, to be exact, maybe.

A team publishing in Science reports on a sample of Nuvvuagittuq greenstone that has been dated 250 million years older than any other rocks.

According to McGill University geologist Don Francis, a coauthor on the study, the rocks contain a “very special chemical signature . . . that can only be found in rocks which are very, very old.” But Francis also says the signature has been found nowhere else on earth.

Previously, the supposed oldest rocks were thought to be 4.03 billion years old, and were also from Canada—from Acasta Gneiss in the Northwest Territories. Additionally, tiny zircons (a kind of mineral grain) from Western Australia have been dated to 4.36 billion years old. (We reported on this find in News to Note, July 5, 2008, item #2.)

The Nuvvuagittuq rocks were dated to between 3.8 and 4.28 billion years old by the Carnegie Institution, which used radiometric methods (testing for decay of neodymium to samarium). Francis commented that he “favors” the 4.28 billion-year-old date, but BBC News doesn’t report why; our guess is that the newsworthiness of the older date may have something to do with it.

Accompanying the geological speculation is hype on the possibility that the rocks bear evidence of “activity by ancient life forms.” The root of the hype is the banded iron formation in the rocks, which incorporates magnetite and quartz; the banding is a typical feature of rock from deep-sea hydrothermal vents. So the conjecture is that these rocks were formed at the bottom of an ancient ocean.

Additionally, evolutionists have identified these warm vents as a possible habitat for the earliest (evolutionary) life-forms, and “some people” (Francis’s words) believe that bacteria are required for the formation of this type of rock, indicating that this is the oldest evidence of life. But he adds:

“But if I were to say that, people would yell and scream and say that there is no hard evidence.”

Thus, while apparently many hope the rocks found by Francis’s team will show signs of life, there’s nothing but hype so far. Of course, it’s never surprising what thin connection can pass for evidence, so even if no further signs of life are found, some evolutionists may nonetheless regard the discovery as circumstantial evidence for ancient microbial life.

As for our view, we take issue with the dating of the rock (see the links below), though not necessarily with its possible connection to microbial life of some form. The rocks could be “ancient” (laid down during Creation Week just over 6000 years ago).The connection to oceanic and geological forces—and even to microbial life, if that were established—would be unsurprising and would fit well within the creation model. For background information, start with Thirty Miles of Dirt in a Day and Microbes and the Days of Creation.

3. National Geographic News: “New Birdlike Dinosaur Found in Argentina”

A dinosaur unearthed in Argentina could be the latest evidence for a dino–bird connection, paleontologists report.

A team led by National Geographic explorer-in-residence Paul Sereno (a University of Chicago paleontologist) has found and analyzed the remains of an elephant-sized predatory dinosaur called Aerosteon riocoloradensis. The dinosaur was dated to 85 million years ago and reveals bones that suggest the dinosaur had air sacs, which seemingly would have pumped air into the terrible lizard’s lungs in much the same way as they function in birds.

The specific fossil components that tipped the scientists off to the air sacs were a wishbone, hip bone, and stomach ribs that were hollowed out, like those of birds. “This leaves little discussion that air sacs existed and that meat-eaters really do have lung structures that resemble birds,” Sereno explained.

The air sac structure allows birds to breathe more efficiently because their lungs don’t expand in the process of breathing. In dinosaurs, such structure may have helped increase their lung efficiency and balance the top-heavy weight of those who moved on two hind legs. Additionally, Reuters reports that the air sacs could have helped regulate the body temperature of dinosaurs.

In other words, the air sac design was appropriate for dinosaurs’ ambulatory and ventilation/temperature needs. So while National Geographic News reports that the discovery “cements the connection between dinosaur and avian evolution,” it really only suggests the idea that, like birds, dinosaurs may have possessed air sacs that suited their needs.

As usual, the evolutionary connection is based on the idea that homology is independent proof of evolution. In fact, as we’ve said many times in the past, homologous structures can also be interpreted (just as well) as evidence for a common designer who re-used designs when appropriate. Also, evolutionists frequently toss out homologues when they don’t fit into pre-existing evolutionary schemata, claiming “convergent evolution” instead.

Of course, all of this is also assuming the air sac discovery really is just that. Don’t forget that the air sac structures themselves were not fossilized, and thus the idea rests on the holes found in the various A. riocoloradensis bones.

In somewhat related news—which has stirred up controversy among evolutionists—the University of Tokyo’s Katsufumi Sato has claimed pterodactyls were too heavy to fly. Soto based the claim on wing-thrust data gathered from accelerometers attached to five bird species. However, we note that the Bible—in such places as Isaiah 14:29; 30:6—does reference “flying serpents” that were likely a now-extinct flying reptile, perhaps such as pterosaurs. As for whether Soto’s hypothesis is accepted or rejected by the rest of the paleontological community, only time will tell.

4. BBC News: “Phoenix Detects Red Planet Snow”

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow—perhaps the tune the Phoenix Mars lander hums as it goes about its work?

Finishing up its work on Mars before winter comes, Phoenix used its LIDAR instrument this week to detect snow forming in clouds high above its current location.

The instrument fires a laser toward the sky, and the beam is scattered off airborne particles—ice crystals, in this case. There are no signs as of yet that the snow actually makes it to the ground, however; it appears the snow is vaporized in midair.

Nonetheless, scientists are eagerly remaining vigilant in case any snow may make it all the way to the surface. “We’re going to be watching very closely over the next month for evidence that the snow is actually landing on the surface,” said York University’s Jim Whiteway, lead scientist for the lander’s weather station.

Any sign of water making it to the surface of the red planet would no doubt excite astrobiologists, who cling to hope—despite years of disappointments—that Mars may still harbor microbial life or signs of it.

In addition to the snow, Phoenix has detected frost, ground fog, and clouds, each occurring more frequently as the weather turns colder. The mission also detected subsurface ice (see More Ice on Mars?), which was considered news this summer.

Also, NASA has interpreted certain geological finds on Mars—such as calcium carbonate and possible clays—as other signs of the presence of liquid water on Mars’s surface at some point in the past.

The University of Arizona’s Bill Boynton, lead scientist for the lander’s TEGA instrument, said, “Assuming we really do need liquid water to form these carbonates—which appears to be the case—then what this says is that we might have had standing water at some point in the past.” (Read more on that news at ScienceNOW.) These findings likewise excite evolutionary biologists in their quest for water (and life, as the evolutionary tale goes) on the planet. Of course, there is plenty of geological evidence for water in the history of Mars, but a dearth of evidence of life.

As for Phoenix, it will not be reborn after the winter. As Martian winter comes, Phoenix is receiving less and less sunlight and consequently less power for its solar batteries, even while it must expend more and more energy to warm its systems. By April of next year, the Sun will disappear completely in the Martian Arctic for three months, during which time frost will build up on the lander’s solar panels, leading to cracks and perhaps causing them to fall off. The temperature will eventually fall to -184˚F (-120˚C) and even colder. It almost brings an icy tear to our eyes, since the lander spawned four News to Note items (the weeks of June 7, July 5, August 2, and August 9) during its short life!

5. MSNBC/Discovery: “Earliest Reference Describes Christ as ‘Magician’”

A bowl dating back to the time of Christ bears an intriguing description: “Christ the magician.” What could it mean?

Archaeologists excavating the underwater ruins of Alexandria’s ancient harbor turned up something of divine interest: a bowl engraved with what could be the earliest reference to Christ.

Scientists dated the bowl to between the late second century BC and the early first century AD. According to the team, the full inscription reads “DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS,” which has been translated as either “by Christ the magician” or “the magician by Christ.”

The Associated Press reports that if the “Christ” on the bowl is a reference to Jesus, “the discovery may provide evidence that Christianity and paganism at times intertwined in the ancient world.”

Frank Goddio of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, who led the team, explained, “It could very well be a reference to Jesus Christ, in that he was once the primary exponent of white magic.” (That comment obviously betrays Goddio’s belief about Christ and Scripture.)

Egyptologist David Fabre has identified the bowl as similar to those depicted in two early Egyptian statuettes that are thought to show a divining ritual. Thus, perhaps an Egyptian magician who had heard of Christ’s miracles attempted to invoke the name of Christ to legitimize his own supposed powers. Goddio noted that it is “very probable that in Alexandria they were aware of the existence of Jesus” and His miracles.

An alternative hypothesis has been presented by Oxford University archaeologist Bert Smith and Berlin-Brandenburg Academy Greek expert Klaus Hallof. Smith suggests the “Chrstou” inscription may refer to the inscription’s author—someone named Chrestos who may have belonged to a religious group called Ogoistais, which Hallof connects to known polytheistic religious groups during the time period. There was even a god known as “Osogo” or “Ogoa” in ancient literature, which may have been the origin for one of the terms on the bowl.

So, looking at the hypotheses presented so far, and recognizing the near impossibility of determining for certain what the inscription means, there seem to be four possibilities.

WHAT IT MEANS “Chrstou” refers to Jesus Christ “Chrstou” refers to another individual
“o goistais” means “the magician” The bowl was used by an Egyptian fortune-teller who cited Christ (known for His miracles) to legitimize his trade; or, someone who knew of Christ (but not the biblical account of Him) cited Him as a magician. The bowl could refer to another individual, such as a “Chrestos,” who was associated with or performed magic/fortune-telling.
“o goistais” refers to polytheists A polytheistic cult that also worshipped Christ (again, known for His miracles, but without knowing the full biblical account of Him) cited Him along with a false god. The bowl belonged to a polytheist perhaps named “Chrestos” in a group called Ogoistais.

While Fabre comments that “paganism, Judaism and Christianity never evolved in isolation” in Alexandria, and that each involved “magical practices,” this bowl doesn’t challenge the gospel accounts; in fact, it fits with them, since we would expect the knowledge of Jesus to have spread during His initial ministry, as He performed amazing miracles. No wonder a magician would want to amplify his credibility by adding a forged “testimonial” of sorts!

And that’s only true if the inscription does refer to Jesus Christ, which may never be determined for sure. The same goes for its actual age.

For more information:

Bill Maher arrives
Bill Maher departs

(Click to enlarge.)

Bill Maher sneaks into Answers in Genesis offices by deceptively exploiting our courtesy.

6. AP: “Maher Takes Crusade vs. Religion to Big Screen”

If you’re religious and easily offended, watch out! Comedian and wannabe-pundit Bill Maher hits the big screen this week with Religulous, a film that—among other things—takes aim at our very own Creation Museum.

It was a year and a half ago when Bill Maher notoriously snuck into Answers in Genesis offices at the Creation Museum to conduct a “surprise interview” with Ken Ham—an interview that now appears in Religulous. At the time, Ham wrote in his blog,

A video crew arranged to come to AiG to visit the museum, calling themselves First Word Productions. At the end of their tour they wanted an interview with me in my office and they asked for permission to drive around the back of the building to bring in equipment. Then, under the pretext of needing to talk to Mark Looy (who supervises and approves such visits) one of the crew distracted Mark—then, without permission, without registering with AiG security as they knew was required, and with one of the crew distracting another AiG employee and shutting their door, they sneaked Bill Maher into the building while I was waiting for an interview. . . .
Because I thought Mark had approved everything, I thought Mark must not have told me who the person interviewing me was to be. Bill Maher did interview me; though respectful in one sense, most of his questions were just mocking attacks on God’s Word. Once we realized what had happened—that he had been “smuggled” into the building—we confronted the crew. Maher said it was a “misunderstanding.”

AiG’s security practices during the museum’s final construction phase (the museum was to open three months after the Maher taping) even had to be tightened as a result of the courtesy extended to “First Word.” Nonetheless, commenting on the opening of the film this week in his blog, Ham remarked,

The interview actually went well, even with Maher’s pointed and mocking questions. I understand that a few minutes of his interview with me are in the film, and, according to our publicist, AiG comes out quite well compared to other groups he met and talked to (and the museum looks great on the big screen).

Because Religulous (a conflation of “religious” and “ridiculous,” by the way) is rated R in the U.S. (it even manages to include some nudity), and so you don’t have to vote for the film through the act of buying a ticket, you can instead get a fair idea of its content by watching the mocking but otherwise clean Religulous trailer. Then extrapolate from that!

Coincidentally enough, Bill Maher’s first and (until this week) only mention in News to Note came just last week. In covering an article by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway’s, we borrowed her quotation of Maher: “You can’t be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god.”

As for Religulous, we read over an Associated Press write-up on the film, dubbed Maher’s “crusade against religion.” Interestingly, though, the article says that Maher is mainly hoping to draw audiences “looking for a fun night at the movies,” and that he “has no misconceptions that Religulous will shake people’s lifelong convictions to the core . . . [instead he’s] mainly looking for laughs.” Maher himself said, “[W]e set out to make a comedy. I always said, my primary motivation was I’m a comedian, and this is comedy gold.” He continued:

“When you’re talking about a man living to 900 years old, and drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old god, and that Creation Museum where they put a saddle on the dinosaur because people rode dinosaurs. It’s just a pile of comedy that was waiting for someone to exploit.”

We’ll leave it to readers to decide if there’s any reason to laugh at Maher’s comedic pile. Perhaps instead you’ll want to read AiG’s review of the film, posted this week: A Religulous Movie.

7. Los Angeles Times: “Palin Treads Carefully between Fundamentalist Beliefs and Public Policy”

From lengthy articles to Saturday Night Live sketches on late-night television, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is under fire—and her origins beliefs and religious faith remain the biggest targets.

In a prime example of the aforementioned lengthy article, the Los Angeles Times examines the “fundamentalist beliefs” of Gov. Palin, who is the Republican nominee for U.S. vice president in November’s elections.

And as has been in the news for most of the past month, the flash point of anti-Palin criticism is her possible belief on origins, and specifically her view that dinosaurs and humans coexisted (or so her opponents repeatedly allege).

For example, the Times article starts off, “Soon after Sarah Palin was elected mayor of the foothill town of Wasilla, Alaska, she startled a local music teacher by insisting in casual conversation that men and dinosaurs coexisted on an Earth created 6,000 years ago[.]”

That’s according to a local music teacher, who says Palin cited “pictures of human footprints inside [dinosaur] tracks” as evidence in favor of dino–man coexistence.

The article reviews other examples that, together (the Times claims), show that “Palin has trod carefully between her evangelical faith and public policy” during her time as governor of Alaska.

Douglas Wead, a former aide to President George H. W. Bush, commented to the Times that the attacks on Palin are attempts to trivialize evangelical Christianity in American political life. “Are we saying they can’t participate in public life?” Wead asked.

Indeed, that’s exactly what actor–activist Matt Damon claimed last month: “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.”

As for whether Palin is actually a creationist, and for what she’s said about the controversy in the classroom, see Is She Really a Creationist?

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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