1. LiveScience: “Life As We Know It Nearly Created in Lab”

The media went wild this week over the “almost” creation of life in the lab.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have created something “tantalizingly close” to life’s origin, asserts LiveScience editorial director Robert Roy Britt. It’s not life, the researchers caution, but it’s nonetheless fueling the hopes of evolutionists that life could have evolved spontaneously.

The scientists synthesized RNA enzymes that are able to replicate themselves indefinitely—“immortalized molecular information,” say the researchers (as Wired reported). Next, they added different batches of the RNA enzymes together and let them compete for raw materials. Mutations occurred, and “the resulting recombinant enzymes also were capable of sustained replication, with the most fit replicators growing in number to dominate the mixture.”

That sounds exactly like what Darwinists would predict for the first life-forms—mutating, with natural selection rewarding the winners—all the way up the tree of life to modern humans and the other organisms on earth today. So how is this less than full-blown experimental proof of abiogenesis, evolution, and the like?

According to Gerald Joyce, dean of the faculty at Scripps, the system can only be called “life” when it has the capability of evolving novel functions on its own—that is, the RNA enzymes can’t actually evolve anything completely new. Wired explains:

The researchers began with pairs of enzymes they’ve been tweaking and designing for the past eight years. Each member of the pairs can only reproduce with the help of the other member. . . . From there, Joyce and his graduate student Tracey Lincoln, added the enzymes into a soup of building blocks, strings of nucleic bases that can be assembled into RNA, DNA or larger strings, and tweaked them to find pairs of enzymes that would reproduce. One day, some of the enzymes “went critical” and produced more RNA enzymes than the researchers had put in. . . .
“To put it in info speak, we have a channel of 30 bit capacity for transferring information,” Joyce said. “We can configure those bits in different ways and make a variety of different replicators. And then have them compete with each other.”
But it wasn’t just a bunch of scientist-designed enzymes competing, like a miniature molecular BattleBots sequence. As soon as the replicators got into the broth, they began to change. “Most of the time they breed true, but sometimes there is a bit flip—a mutation—and it’s a different replicator,” explained Joyce. Most of these mutations went away quickly, but—sound familiar?—some of the changes ended up being advantageous to the chemicals in replicating better. After 77 doublings of the chemicals, astounding changes had occurred in the molecular broth.

First, while the scientists’ enzyme pool contains “novel” mutations—ones that the researchers didn’t specifically create beforehand—there isn’t actually any new information involved. We could say that the information changes in the population are horizontal rather than vertical—different configurations of those 30 pre-existing “bits”—what they referred to as a “bit flip.” Furthermore, the enzymes aren’t using the information as a blueprint to construct new anatomical features, as molecules-to-man evolution demands; they’re merely matching up with each other and replicating.

Second, it’s important to remember that this is a carefully engineered, artificial environment that is allowing the enzymes to survive. As ScienceDaily reports, “The subunits in the enzymes the team constructed each contain many nucleotides, so they are relatively complex and not something that would have been found floating in the primordial ooze.” And Scripps Institution of Oceanography chemist Jeffrey Bada, who was not involved in the research, cautioned that “it still leaves the problem of how RNA first came about. Some type of self-replicating molecule likely proceeded RNA and what this was is the big unknown at this point.”

Third, we’ve noted in the past that even if evolution were possible, that could never negate the possibility of divine creation; after all, the only valid reason to think divine creation is impossible is if one rejects the divine. So far, evolutionists can’t point to a single information-adding mutation, either in nature or in the laboratory, but even if evolutionists hypothetically discovered one such mutation, the historicity of evolution remains an idea ultimately taken on faith.

2. BBC News: “New Light on Mars Methane Mystery”

Finally—life on Mars! Is it the evidence for what evolutionists already believe?

Fox News touted “more good evidence” that there is life on Mars, while Britain’s tabloid The Sun cried “Life on Mars” and declared, “Alien microbes living just below the Martian soil are responsible for a haze of methane around the Red Planet, [NASA] scientists believe.”

The specific news is that NASA has detected “large amounts” of methane, which on earth is primarily produced by both live and dead organisms. The methane was detected by telescopes on Hawaii, though five years ago the Mars Express Orbiter detected some methane in the Martian atmosphere.

Volcanic processes—thought to be dead on Mars—also produce methane when hot, carbon-bearing rocks react with water. Additionally, news sources have cautioned that it could be “the result of some little-understood geological process.” The official release on NASA’s website states:

However, it is possible a geologic process produced the Martian methane, either now or eons ago. On Earth, the conversion of iron oxide (rust) into the serpentine group of minerals creates methane, and on Mars this process could proceed using water, carbon dioxide, and the planet's internal heat. Although we don’t have evidence on Mars of active volcanoes today, ancient methane trapped in ice “cages” called clathrates might now be released.

The Sun quotes British UFO enthusiast Nick Pope, who calls the find, “the most important discovery of all time” and declares it an “absolute certainty that there is life out there . . . . I am certain there is other life in the universe and, most likely, intelligent life.” Pope implicated the source of his certainty—evolutionary doctrine—when he said, “If it’s happened here on Earth, then why shouldn’t it happen anywhere? The implication is this is a universal law.”

Of course, don’t be surprised that we’re not holding our breath. For one thing, discoveries of “life” on Mars have a habit of fizzling (or, more accurately, remaining unproven speculations). A decade ago scientists went crazy over the idea that an Antarctic meteorite, thought to be from Mars, contained fossilized microbial life. Other scientists quickly tore the claim apart. In the years since, the same pattern—yes it’s life; no it isn’t—has followed numerous other claims originating in chemical discoveries on the Martian surface. The only certainty is that there’s, as of yet, no evidence of life on Mars definitive enough to convince all evolutionists, let alone creationists.

Nonetheless, plenty of evolutionists—scientists and laypersons alike—are emphatic that “we’re not alone” and believe it’s only a matter of time until Martian life turns up. Pope represents this view. There’s nothing scientific about it; it’s pure dogma, but quite expectable considering the predictions of the evolutionary worldview.

There’s always that slim possibility that Mars—or some other astronomical body—is harboring something that we’d call “life” on earth. No Bible verse declares absolutely that God didn’t, e.g., put microbes on Mars or viruses on Venus, although there are plenty of good arguments against the likelihood of that. But unless tomorrow’s astronauts actually find direct evidence of life on Mars, it doesn’t take much effort to chalk the indirect evidence up to evolutionism-fueled speculation.

For more information:

  • Are ETs & UFOs Real?
  • More Ice on Mars?
  • Mission to Mars
  • Get Answers: Astrophysics, Aliens/UFOs
  • 3. Nature: “15 Evolutionary Gems” (PDF)

    They’re the “gems” of evolution—but what are their imperfections?

    Earlier in the month, the journal Nature reported 15 alleged transitional forms that have already received significant press coverage in the past. So does this rehashing “illustrate the breadth, depth and power of evolutionary thinking”? Let’s take a look at the gems one by one and see which ones we’ve already covered.

    Gems from the fossil record

    1. Land-living ancestors of whales: Are raoellids the latest proof of whale evolution? See News to Note, December 22, 2007.
    2. From water to land: Is Tiktaalik proof that fish once walked on land? See our response, part 1 and part 2.
    3. The origin of feathers: Are feathered dinosaurs found in the fossil record? See The evolution of feathers and Did Dinosaurs Turn Into Birds?.
    4. The evolutionary history of teeth: Do differences in rodent teeth prove evolution? We had never before responded to this model that “predicts the dentition patterns found in mouselike rodent species with various diets, providing an example of ecologically driven evolution along a developmentally favoured trajectory.” From the summary given, it appears this is nothing more than an evolutionary spin tacked onto some otherwise interesting developmental biology.
    5. The origin of the vertebrate skeleton: What does the “neural crest” have to do with evolution? This one presupposes evolution, presenting a neural crest “unique to vertebrates,” then trying to account for it within the evolution model. For example, finding “[s]keletal similarities that result from a shared evolutionary history,” as this research purports to do, presupposes a shared evolutionary history.

    Gems from habitats

    1. Natural selection in speciation: Do stickleback fish prove evolution before our very eyes? See News to Note, May 24, 2008 and News to Note, September 6, 2008.
    2. Natural selection in lizards: Does lizard evolution prove evolution before our very eyes? See News to Note, November 15, 2008.
    3. A case of co-evolution: What does the “Red Queen” have to do with evolution? Nature argues that parasite resistance in water fleas—soon overcome by the parasites “evolving” to infect them again—is a perfect example of evolution. We suspect this process is far more similar to the “evolution” of antibiotic resistance.
    4. Differential dispersal in wild birds: Does genetic variation prove evolution? See Chapter 3: Natural Selection vs. Evolution.
    5. Selective survival in wild guppies: Does natural selection prove evolution? See The guppies and the nematode . . . .
    6. Evolutionary history matters: Are similarities in anatomies proof of evolution? See Does homology provide evidence of evolutionary naturalism?

    Gems from molecular processes

    1. Darwin’s Galapagos finches: Do Darwin’s finches prove evolution? See “Evolution” of Finch Beaks—Again.
    2. Microevolution meets macroevolution: Do we observe genetic changes that lead to an increase in information? See Are mutations part of the “engine” of evolution?
    3. Toxin resistance in snakes and clams: Does toxin resistance prove evolution? Again, this seems similar to the argument for the supposed “evolution” of antibiotic resistance.
    4. Variation versus stability: Does everything prove evolution? See Hasn’t Evolution Been Proven True?

    4. The Times: “For God’s Sake, Have Charles Darwin’s Theories Made Any Difference to Our Lives?”

    Thanks, Mr. Darwin—for nothing!

    In a surprisingly candid article (with a blasphemous title), Britain’s Times asks readers, “What has Charles Darwin done for you? Do you feel better or worse for the news that a gibbon is your close cousin?”

    One of the answers comes from Answers in Genesis anatomist David Menton, who told the Times, “Darwinism is what you have once you have denied the existence of God.”

    The article then contrasts that “[w]e do things differently here [in the UK],” adding that “even the most hermetic among us must be aware [that this is] Darwin’s year.” Apparently author Bryan Appleyard didn’t read the survey results less than two months ago that revealed that 80 percent of Britons don’t have a clue about about Darwin’s connection to 2009.

    Skipping through the typical Darwinian minutiae, we come to an interesting account Appleyard reports. He met 21-year-old lapsed Catholic Michelle Wilkinson at the Natural History Museum’s Darwin Big Idea exhibit; as they looked at all the Darwin paraphernalia, he asked, “Does this make you doubt even more?”

    “Yes,” she says wistfully and maybe a bit sadly.

    Yet Appleyard pointed out problems in Darwin’s model. “There were gaping holes in [Darwin’s] argument,” he explains, continuing:

    He knew nothing of genes and he had not shown how perfection emerges. It’s all very well to talk of small mutations changing an organism, but how do such changes make, for example, an eye? . . . And, finally, although Darwin showed micro-evolution . . . his leap to the conclusion that this proved macro-evolution (species transforming into other species) was a leap of faith.

    Appleyard adds, “Even among Darwinists, this unexpected complexity has produced confusion and [rancor] . . . . The division remains, deep and unresolved.”

    Later in the article, the topic turns to the connection between Darwinism and morality. “Almost from its first appearance, the Darwinian idea has been used to justify appalling [behavior],” Appleyard writes, pointing out the social Darwinism advocated by philosopher Herbert Spencer as well as an infamous German leader.

    Appleyard never fully explains what he believes about evolution, although he concludes, “Man still thinks he can be the master of nature, yet the one thing Darwinism shows more clearly than anything else is that we are its servants.” That, indeed, is what Darwinists believe—though they rarely pursue that logic to its end. The final outcome, if Darwinism is truly heeded, is a world devoid of morality or meaning; nature a kaleidoscope of uncaring change. That model is utterly opposed to the biblical worldview that sees morality, purpose, and meaning in each human life.

    5. ScienceNOW: “The Flashiest Dino of Them All”

    A “dinosaur” that had “feathers” wasn’t using them for flight—rather it was for vain purposes.

    The little-known dinosaur in question is Beipiaosaurus, first found in 1999 in China, with “ early plumage . . . [that] wasn’t used for flight.” According to a team led by paleontologist Xing Xu of China's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beipiaosaurus instead may have used the “mysterious” supposed feathers “to attract mates or defend its territory.”

    The stiff, long feathers Xu is referring to are known as elongated broad filamentous feathers (EBFFs) that resemble porcupine quills, not bird feathers. That’s not only the wrong shape for flight features; they’re also distributed wrongly: on the dinosaur’s head, neck, and tail. That’s where some modern birds exhibit so-called display feathers, which gave rise to the team’s idea that the EBFFs were used to attract mates.

    The entire issue of feathered dinosaurs is controversial, even among some evolutionists. Additionally, reports do not describe exactly what fossilized features were found by head paleontologist Xing Xu, who has previously jumped to identify dinosaur feathers even when that conclusion isn’t clear from the fossils. While nothing biblical restricts the possibility of feathered dinosaurs (or feathered fish, for that matter), the evidence—as always—seems to be mostly reside in the minds of scientists who already believe dinosaurs evolved into birds.

    6. Washington Post: “Basest Instinct”

    Many readers of the Answers in Genesis website are likely already familiar with the name Ota Benga. Now the readership of the Washington Post is as well.

    Ota Benga was an African Pygmy born in 1881, captured and exhibited as a “savage” at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and later incarcerated as a missing link in the Bronx Zoo. Tragically, he committed suicide after his release, depressed that he would never be able to return to Africa.

    For those of you who read the article linked above, the name Ann Hornaday might sound familiar: she is the great-great-great-niece of Bronx Zoo director William Hornaday, who put Benga on display. The occasion for her article is the new film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which features an African Pygmy character named Ngunda Oti who tells the title character his story of being exhibited in a zoo monkey house.

    We won’t spoil the harrowing account Hornaday tells, tying her family history into the Ota Benga tragedy; here’s just a taste to whet your appetite:

    I’d never heard [Ota Benga’s] name until several years ago, when I heard his story on the radio. I was sipping coffee and reading the paper, wondering with half an ear how anyone could put a fellow human being in a zoo, when the name “William Temple Hornaday” rang out. I put the coffee down, mortified, and listened more closely. In 1906, Verner, looking for a place for Benga to live, finally brought him to the Bronx Zoo, where Temple welcomed him and, at first, simply let him walk the grounds, helping the workers, befriending the animals and keeping a relatively low profile. But one early September weekend, Temple decided to move Benga’s hammock into an orangutan’s cage, where he encouraged Benga to engage in such “picturesque” activities as playing with his simian companion, weaving caps out of straw and shooting his bow and arrow.

    Continue on to Basest Instinct to read the intimate perspective of someone unknowingly connected to the Ota Benga affair.

    7. BBC News: “‘Spookfish’ Has Mirrors for Eyes”

    The brownsnout spookfish isn’t exactly a household name, but scientists have just discovered its claim to fame: eyes that incorporate not only lenses, but also mirrors to see into murky Pacific Ocean depths.

    Scientists had obtained none of the fish live in the 120 years since it was first identified—until last year, when a scientist from Tuebingen University caught one off the coast of Tonga.

    A team has now reported in Current Biology that the fish is the first known vertebrate to have mirrors in its eyes that help focus light. “In nearly 500 million years of vertebrate evolution, and many thousands of vertebrate species living and dead, this is the only one known to have solved the fundamental optical problem faced by all eyes—how to make an image—using a mirror,” said Bristol University’ Julian Partridge, who conducted the tests.

    The fish’s two eyes are each split into two connected elements, one which points up and the other which points down. A mirror, thought to be composed of layers of guanine crystals, unites the two images.

    “Very little light penetrates beneath about 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) of water and like many other deep-sea fish, the spookfish is adapted to make the most of what little light there is,” Partridge explains. “The use of a single mirror has a distinct advantage over a lens in its potential to produce bright, high-contrast images. That must give the fish a great advantage in the deep sea, where the ability to spot even the dimmest and briefest of lights can mean the difference between eating and being eaten.”

    Partridge also used a computer simulation that showed that the arrangement of crystal plates that form mirror’s curved surface were “precise” and “perfect” for focusing the light to the retina. So once again, the question is: are such “perfect” designs better explained by accidental mutations or by an ingenious Designer?

    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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