1. New York Times: “In Texas, a Line in the Curriculum Revives Evolution Debate”

The debate is still raging over how the science curriculum is being “messed with” in Texas.

The state’s sharply divided board of education considered testimony this week from “scientists and social conservatives” on the issue of revising the science curriculum. Any revisions would have far-reaching effects, since Texas is the second-most populous U.S. state; textbook publishers cater to the large and lucrative Texas school market.

A Wednesday Times article explained the specifics of the debate:

On the surface, the debate centers on a passage in the state’s curriculum that requires students to critique all scientific theories, exploring “the strengths and weaknesses” of each. Texas has stuck to that same standard for 20 years, having originally passed it to please religious conservatives. In practice, teachers rarely pay attention to it.
This year, however, a panel of teachers assigned to revise the curriculum proposed dropping those words, urging students instead to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence.”

Thus, the “agitators” this time were not creationists, but rather evolutionists who wanted to undo the status quo and remove the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase. And the details of the debate the board heard are unsurprising: one side points out alleged weaknesses in Darwinism, and the other side points to alleged refutations of those weaknesses.

For instance, this week the board heard from the Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer, who testified that, among other things, evolutionists have difficulty explaining the Cambrian Explosion. Biologists such as the University of Texas’s David Hillis countered that by arguing that the alleged weaknesses are all “baseless” and “misrepresentations.” Meanwhile, parents testified that their children had been “intimidated and ridiculed by biology teachers when they questioned evolution.”

The following day, the Dallas Morning News reported that the board “voted 7-7 on Thursday to follow the advice of a panel of science educators and drop” the phrase in question. The News article misleadingly implies that the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase applied exclusively to Darwin’s theory, when in fact it was found in generic requirement for students to study “scientific explanations” in all areas of science (see the guidelines). And the phrase is used elsewhere, such as in an advanced science course curriculum and the psychology curriculum. Nevertheless, as the Discovery Institute blog notes, the use of the phrase “analyze and evaluate” in reference to common ancestry and natural selection is indeed a bit of a success.

The News quotes Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga: “We’re talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do.” She apparently forgets that at least one such expert (Meyer, mentioned above) testified on behalf of language that challenges students to think about evolution.

Opponents of the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase justify their stance on the grounds that it opens the door to teaching creation, though the text clearly gives no mandate for anything other than thinking critically about all scientific explanations. How valuable are students who can recite scientific explanations but cannot differentiate between good and bad explanations? Ironically, censoring the weaknesses in evolutionary thought will make them that much more potent when students someday do encounter them and ask, “Why wasn’t I told about this?”

Answers in Genesis reminds readers that ultimately, Christian parents and pastors are responsible for educating each new generation in the biblical worldview; that’s not a responsibility that can be entrusted to public schools. However, we strongly support curricula that encourage truth-seeking and critical thinking—good skills that (for some) strangely go out the window when the question turns to evolution.

2. National Geographic News: “Lizards Evolve Rapidly to Survive Deadly Fire Ants”

Lizards are busy “evolving” again—is it more proof for Darwinism?

Fire ants are unpleasant, to say the least: their venomous bites are more than a minor annoyance for humans, and according to National Geographic News, they can strip animals as large as calves down to the bone. For the small fence lizard, the stings of just a dozen fire ants can mean death in a single minute.

Penn State University biologist Tracy Langkilde has been studying the various responses fence lizards have to the fire ants. Langkilde selected adults from four lizard populations and determined that longer legs and “skittish” behavior—both of which protect the lizards from the ants—are “more common at sites where lizards and fire ants had co-existed longer.” According to Langkilde, the findings are evidence of “a rapid evolutionary response to the fire ants.”

Specifically, the lizards’ skittish twitching removes the fire ants before they can sting the lizards’ soft underbelly, while the long legs are thought to help the lizards fling the ants off and then flee more quickly. Lizards from populations where fire ants are not common sat still when under attack, as if hoping the fire ants would eventually go away.

But is the twitch-and-flee response just something the lizards had learned after being exposed to the fire ants? To answer this question, Langkilde exposed baby lizards from various populations to the fire ants. Surprisingly, all of the lizards responded skittishly, whether from a population that lives near fire ants or not.

According to Langkilde, most of the lizards seem to lose their skittish response once they develop adult scales. But in populations exposed to fire ants, losing the skittishness proves deadly, and thus, the lizards whose genes keep them skittish are more likely to survive and pass on those genes. “It seems like it’s this baby-response behavior that’s been retained in populations because of the risk the fires ants pose,” Langkilde explains. Langkilde also discovered that, among the populations living alongside fire ants, infant lizards are more likely to have longer limbs.

National Geographic News quotes both University of Massachusetts–Amherst biologist Duncan Irschick and University of California–Davis ecologist Sharon Strauss as claiming the research provides “solid evidence” for evolution.

Yet Strauss adds, in the words of reporter John Roach, that “A genetic trait for twitching in adulthood is likely to have existed within the lizard population prior to the fire ant invasion.” The fence lizard populations have “evolved” only in the sense that the frequencies of different characteristics in the population have changed—not in the sense that there is any new genetic information in the population. If fire ants spread and, one day, all short-legged, non-twitching fence lizards are extinct, there will have been a reduction in the genetic information of the fence lizard species, exactly the opposite of what molecules-to-man evolution would require.

3. ScienceNOW: “Extinct Tiger Lives On in Close Relative”

The Caspian tiger was dead—but now it’s alive?

Okay, so there’s not really any hocus-pocus going on here. The Caspian tiger is thought to have been extinct since 1970, but it seems a “closely related subspecies” is nearly identical.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the U.S. National Cancer Institute Laboratory of Genomic Diversity collected tissues from 20 preserved museum specimens of the Caspian tiger and sequenced parts of their mitochondrial DNA. Though the Caspian tiger genes were “readily distinguishable” from most other tigers’, it was nearly indistinguishable from that of the Siberian tiger.

For that reason, ScienceNOW reports that “the two subspecies are really one.” The researchers believe the populations diverged within the last century, intermingling until hunters isolated the two groups. The researchers now plan to introduce Siberian tigers to the old Caspian tiger habitat.

The news reminds us that even after centuries of genetic adaptation—where individual populations lose genetic information and “evolve” into unique species—we can still see how they have descended from one created kind, in this case the cat kind. From the members of the cat kind Noah took on board the Ark we have an entire range of often closely related, but still unique, cats today. Hybrids like the liger and the pumapard are an additional reminder of this close relationship. The “evolution” of unique species is actually “devolution”—removing genetic information—from populations descended from the original created kinds.

In a related story, the Mail reports that our ancestors “may have genetically altered the coats of domestic animals for their own amusement.” Novel superficial features such as different colors, bands, and spots may have been preferred for several reasons: not only amusement, but also to help keep track of otherwise hard-to-see animals, or to mark animals with “improved characteristics.”

The research, conducted by University of Durham scientists and published in PLoS Genetics, focused on wild and domestic pigs. While all pigs in the study exhibited some mutations, only domesticated pigs had mutations in a gene called MC1R, one of the genes controlling coat color. In the wild, however, mutations in this gene would have allowed the pigs to be more easily spotted by predators, thus selecting against changes in the gene. On the other hand, layers of MC1R mutations in domesticated pigs showed “that the initial changes had been in existence for a long time.”

For the Mail, the study explains “the evolution in the coat [colors] of all domesticated animals, like cows and dogs” (emphasis added). Actually, the artificial selection for strange colors doesn’t show how, e.g., a dog could evolve into something different; rather, it helps explain why there is such an incredible diversity within the dog kind today—breeders have selected for every strange variation, even those that wouldn’t make it in the wild!

4. ScienceDaily: “Language Driven By Culture, Not Biology, Study Shows”

“But if universal grammar did not evolve by natural selection, how could it have arisen?” That’s one question posed by a recent study—one we can certainly answer!

In a recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, American and British researchers conclude that language was a cultural development, not a product of evolving genes. While the paper is rooted in untestable evolutionary ideas, it nonetheless gives us a prime opportunity to look at language from the biblical perspective.

The question the researchers ask is, did human biology evolve to accommodate linguistic developments, or was the biology “already there”? They answer that “genes for language could have coevolved only in a highly stable linguistic environment; a rapidly changing linguistic environment would not provide a stable target for natural selection.” In other words, language changes too fast for genetics to evolve along with it. ScienceDaily explains:

The authors conclude that it is unlikely that humans possess a genetic ‘language module’ which has evolved by natural selection. The genetic basis of human language appears to primarily predate the emergence of language.

Thus, all people groups have the same linguistic capabilities, even though the languages we speak differ. This lines up with the human capability to learn languages of cultures far separated from our own.*

University College London scientist Nick Chater adds:

“Our paper uncovers a paradox at the heart of theories about the evolutionary origin and genetic basis of human language—although we have [sic] appear to have a genetic predisposition towards language, human language has evolved far more quickly than our genes could keep up with, suggesting that language is shaped and driven by culture rather than biology.”
“But if universal grammar did not evolve by natural selection, how could it have arisen? Our findings suggest that language must be a culturally evolved system, not a product of biological adaptation. This is consistent with current theories that language arose from the unique human capacity for social intelligence.”

Chater also acknowledges that the entire Indo-European language group diverged in less than 10,000 years. Could it be that rather than having any evolutionary basis, a unique speaking capability of humans given to Adam and Eve at creation is part of their being made in the image of God? At Babel, God confused languages—though not the anatomy that allows it—and the diaspora of people groups further diversified those “confused” languages into the many spoken today.

5. AFP: “Christian Refuses to Drive ‘No God’ Bus”

A Christian bus driver has boldly refused to drive a bus sporting atheist banners backed by Richard Dawkins, et al.

Ron Heather, a Southampton resident who drives for First Bus, was “shocked” earlier in the month when discovering the bus he was slated to drive carried an anti-God banner. (We first reported on the banners in our October 25 News to Note.)

“I felt that I could not drive that bus, I told my managers and they said they haven’t got another one and I thought I better go home, so I did,” Heather told the BBC. “I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God.” Heather agreed to return to work after First Bus pledged to do what it could to make sure he would not have to drive another “atheist” bus.

We’re not sure who could be surprised at this latest turn of events, since the advertisements have fallen under heavy criticism since even before they were launched. According to Agence France-Presse, Christians in the UK have asked the government’s advertising watchdog for “proof” that the banners are telling the truth.

Our guess is that the advertisements haven’t changed anyone’s mind, but we can hope and pray that the signs will actually encourage deeper consideration of the question.

An article in the Telegraph springboards off the anti-God banners, reporting the recent comments of former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey.

In a speech delivered at the University of Gloucestershire, Carey argued that 9/11 opened the door for “aggressive” atheists to attack all religion. “For some writers,” Carey said, “such events are illustrations of the evils of religion—all religions.”

Carey’s criticism didn’t stop at atheists, however; he attacked creationists as well, calling creation “pseudoscience” and lauding Charles Darwin as “one of the greatest human beings of all time.” He continued:

“Creationism is the fruit of a fundamentalist approach to scripture, ignoring scholarship and critical learning, and confusing different understandings of truth. The argument for intelligent design may have some appeal for many Christians but is ultimately a negation of what science is about, which is to make a hypotheses [sic] from what is observable and then conduct experiments in a constant process of testing.”

As we’ve frequently pointed out, Darwinism is actually quite unscientific in that (among other things) it is not based on observation or repeatable experiments, nor are any beliefs about origins. Furthermore, the former archbishops’ claim of “different understandings of truth” is not found in Scripture.

6. Barna Group: “Christianity Is No Longer Americans’ Default Faith”

Pollster George Barna reports this week that Christianity is no longer the “default faith” in the U.S.

In a telephone survey of just over a thousand adults, 50 percent agreed that “Christianity is no longer the faith that Americans automatically accept,” with 44 percent disagreeing. Other findings of interest:

  • 74 percent of respondents agreed that “religious faith was becoming even more important to them than it used to be as a source of objective and reliable moral guidance.”
  • 71 percent agreed that “they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church.” 82 percent of respondents under the age of 25 agreed with the proposition.
  • Among those describing themselves as Christian, “close to half” do not believe in Satan, a third believe Jesus sinned, and a quarter believe the Bible is not accurate in “all of the principles it teaches.”

The study concludes that, more than ever, Christians serve as their own “theologian-in-residence,” even though it leads to “an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs” such as believing that the Bible is inerrant yet also believing that Jesus sinned. Individuals are also more likely to consider non-Christian perspectives as valid, which “has resulted in an abundance of unique worldviews based on personal combinations of theology drawn from a smattering of world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam as well as secularism.”

Sadly, these results shouldn’t surprise us as we see the steady “evolutionizing” of the culture and the march away from the authority of God’s Word—the only reliable, unchanging source of truth. While it is inspiring that the majority of people still view religion as the source of moral guidance, it seems “religion” is becoming just as subjective as morality.

And Don’t Miss . . .

In our new News to Note feature, we’ll take a very quick look at some other news around the web for this week.

Every week we receive far more news tips than we can cover. Up to now, we generally haven’t covered those lower-profile stories even though they’re often quite relevant. “And Don’t Miss . . .” will come at the end of each News to Note, offering a short sentence or two and link to some of the best of the rest of the news we find or are tipped on. We hope it will be an opportunity for you to stretch your thinking muscle and read these stories through biblical lenses.

  • A species of dung beetle has changing tastes. Could it be reminiscent of some animals‘ conversion to carnivory after the Fall?
  • Children and women of “optimum reproductive age” were most likely to survive the Titanic disaster. Is that because of passengers’ morality or evolutionary instinct?
  • Was it a poor choice of words or reflective of the underlying worldview when one embryonic stem cell researcher enthused, “Twenty or thirty years from now, hopefully I’ll be full of embryonic stem cell products” (emphasis added)?
  • A “newly” discovered catfish (it’s actually been known for at least 20 years) can work its way onto rocks using its pelvic fin—as can another type of catfish. Scientists don’t consider it a transitional form; they’re just puzzled over how to classify it. Within the catfish kind, perhaps?

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, New York Times or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard 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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