1. Darwin is the News

Two weeks ago, we covered Darwin in the news. This week, Darwin is the news!

In January, it seemed that newly elected U.S. president Barack Obama was the star of every magazine cover and newspaper headline. But move over, Mr. Obama: February is the month of Charles Darwin, whose birth 200 years ago is now the talk of every media outlet.

As such, the number of articles on every facet of Darwin is downright overwhelming, and fresh articles are pouring in even as we write. The New York Times alone, for instance, offered a six-article series in tribute this week in its Science Times section. And Forbes magazine offered a whole bevy more from various perspectives—including an article from our own Ken Ham.

The hubbub surrounding this evolutionary “holiday” even includes Darwinian vacations and reports on Darwin’s house, and National Public Radio used the occasion to reprint an essay not by Darwin, but by his eugenicist grandson Charles Galton Darwin. Meanwhile, Darwin’s birthday is an opportunity for yet another nasty review of the Creation Museum by an evolutionist, complete with the requisite low blows and half-truths.

There’s even a sort of “what would Darwin do?” mentality in an article on climate change as well as an article on things Darwin never said.

Media outlets are reporting on both old and new polls about evolution as well (we covered the latest of them last week). The Associated Press reports the unsurprising news that a controversy still exists. The reporter quoted AiG–UK’s Paul Taylor under the notice that “[e]ven Darwin’s ideological adversaries concede that he was a towering figure.” Paul said, “He was clearly extremely important, his thinking changed the world. We disagree with his conclusions, with the way he made extrapolations, but he was a very careful observer and we've got a lot to be grateful for.” Of course, that’s far more generous than how many evolutionists would describe creation scientists!

However, Paul was misquoted in the last portion, telling us:

I did not say this. I acknowledged that Darwin had been a careful observer. I did not say that we had anything to be grateful for. I said I was grateful about the opinion poll that shows that 51% of the British public are, at the very least, skeptical about evolution. I also said a great deal about the negative effects that Darwinism has had on Western society, and none of that has been quoted.

Sadly, the Catholic Church used Darwin’s birthday as an opportunity to distance itself even from intelligent design, and thus essentially confirm the church’s view that God had nothing to do with the origin of life. To Catholic Church honchos, the idea of God having anything to do with origins is “poor theology and poor science.” (In addition, the Church of England officially “made up” with Darwin last year.)

Due to this deluge of Darwin articles, there’s no way we could read—let alone respond to—all of them. So instead, we decided to offer a good framework to encapsulate our response to virtually any article on Darwin:

  1. Darwin is a celebrity. That means that articles cover not only his scientific views, but also are examining nearly every other known aspect of his life. Should we be surprised in today’s celebrity-focused culture?
  2. Darwin’s ideas have stood the test of time—a century and a half, anyway (Darwin’s Origin of Species was published 150 years ago). That doesn’t make them any more correct than they were then, but clearly the Darwinian model has an appeal for those who would rather not see divine creation.
  3. Darwin is still quite controversial. No shock there; there’s even a controversy over whether his name is overused. Of course, when it comes to creation vs. evolution, the media eagerly reports that there is a controversy but rarely bothers to include the creationist case except to refute it. For example, a LiveScience article (syndicated on Fox News) claims “Creationists claim there are no transitional fossils, aka missing links. Biologists and paleontologists, among others, know this claim is false.” Meanwhile, National Geographic News has artists’ impressions of all the “trendy” transitional forms.

If you’re looking to read up on Darwin, why not start with us? Visit our 200 Lost Years and Year of Darwin campaign pages to start (both link to numerous other relevant articles).

2. New Scientist: “Born Believers: How Your Brain Creates God”

Religion? It’s all in your head: New Scientist takes an unmitigated swipe at theism.

Based on a report that attendance in “strict” churches rose during the Great Depression, New Scientist writer Michael Brooks has leapt to a conclusion: that all of religion is imaginary, and that tough times spur our belief in the imaginary. He writes:

It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

Of course, the evidence is that Brooks presupposes that religion is imaginary and, within that deconstructive framework, elicits an explanation for the origin of religion that suits his presuppositions. He practically admits as much, since the two ideas he provides for the “origin of religious belief” are both evolutionary. (I.e., he presumably long ago rejected the possibility that there is a supernatural.)

Brooks spoke with a number of researchers (who all presumably have the same bias as he does) about the idea that thinking imaginary things is “hardwired” into the brain. “People readily form relationships with non-existent others: roughly half of all 4-year-olds have had an imaginary friend, and adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives, fictional characters, and fantasy partners,” Brooks writes.

If a person already believes religion is purely fantasy, it’s easy to buy into this sort of logic. Children spontaneously invent imaginary playmates, so “God” must just be a sort of sophisticated imaginary character for adults.

There’s a very straightforward problem with this logic, however, as Brooks acknowledges: “All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods.” Yet he apparently remains confident that “religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work.”

The entire article is a lesson in how worldviews shape our understanding. Evolutionists almost thoughtlessly attribute religious belief to evolutionary forces, whereas creationists likewise see religion as man’s attempts (right and wrong) to engage with the supernatural. Brooks even describes a hypothetical experiment in which children would be raised in isolation: would they spontaneously develop religious beliefs? Our guess is that whatever the outcome, both evolutionists and creationists (or atheists and theists) would easily arrive at explanations consistent with their own worldview.

3. ScienceNOW: “One Giant Leap for Robot-Kind”

Robot designers are taking a cue from lizards and cockroaches!

Anyone who has tried to traverse a sand dune on foot knows it’s a far more difficult task than walking on asphalt. Even driving across soft-packed sand presents problems because, as ScienceNOW writer correspondent Phil Berardelli explains, “the loose agglomeration of sand grains often collapses into a hole under the weight of a vehicle’s wheels and provides too little traction for those wheels to roll back out.”

Robots are not exempt from the travails of sandy travel, and the mechanical rovers on Mars have encountered the problem as well. But researchers inspired by nature may have the solution. A team led by Georgia Tech physicist Daniel Goldman realized that the limbs of desert animals solve this sandy problem: they do not move across the sand at a steady rate. Instead, each limb moves slowly when in contact with the sand, then rapidly moves through the air until it makes contact with the sand again. Thus, the animals—such as lizards and cockroaches—can move quickly without getting trapped in the sand.

The team constructed the six-limbed SandBot to demonstrate the principle. An axis at its center allows one side (three legs) to move very slowly through sand while the other side (three legs) rotates rapidly forward. Once that side has touched ground, the roles reverse.

In trials, SandBot sped through a sand-like track at a rate of 30 centimeters per second (or about a foot per second), at least 15 times faster than the Mars rovers can move. Of course, the rovers have wheels, which is why the team now wants to created a wheeled version of SandBot.

Yet again, scientists are taking a cue from God by mimicking this design, which seems so obvious once understood to make one wonder, “why didn’t I think of that?”

For more information:

4. New Scientist: “Unnatural selection: Robots Start to Evolve”

Robot designers are taking a cue from Charles Darwin!

Can a robot’s software “evolve” to cope with physical changes, such as the addition of new features? That’s the question asked by Robert Gordon University engineer Christopher MacLeod. With the help of colleagues, MacLeod designed a robot that can adapt to changes by “mimicking biological evolution”—or so New Scientist writer Paul Marks claims. Let’s take a closer look.

The team’s robot has a “brain”—a neural network, to be more specific—that attempts to mimic the brain’s learning process. The brain can be trained by giving it priorities, in essence. Marks explains:

For example, if the goal is to remain balanced and the robot receives inputs from sensors that it is tipping over, it will move its limbs in an attempt to right itself. Such actions are shaped by adjusting the importance, or weighting, of the input signals to each node. Certain combinations of these sensor inputs cause the node to fire a signal—to drive a motor, for example. If this action works, the combination is kept. If it fails, and the robot falls over, the robot will make adjustments and try something different next time.

MacLeod’s team has developed a system of artificial “genomes” for the robot to use. An algorithm randomly determines the genome, and the genomes that result in the best robotic performance are “bred” to create better versions.

But the design goes beyond that. When the robot’s structure—its “anatomy,” you might say—changes, the robotic software realizes if it isn’t completing its programmed goal as efficiently and creates new “neurons” to deal with the added features. After trying various combinations, it eventually finds a way to complete a task, at which time the software “freezes” the programming and evolution stops. According to the researchers, the software can even cope with such additions as cameras, “learning” how to seek or avoid light.

So does this lend support for evolutionary theory? In a way, yes, it lends support for the idea that “evolution,” in general, is a valid theoretical concept, useful in various disciplines and contexts. For instance, we can imagine how words and phrases “evolve” within a language according to how popular they are.

But does the validity of generic “evolution” say anything about whether or not biological evolution occurred, as speculated by Darwin? That is a much trickier question. In instances of societal evolution (words, phrases, fashions, etc.), intelligent designers (viz., humans) are behind the “evolution.” In the case of this robot, while the algorithm is yielding random “genomes,” the evolution algorithm itself—in addition to the entire software system, programming language, and mechanical robot—are all very carefully designed and even given specific goals, with successful evolutions “frozen” at waypoints. None of these are true of supposed Darwinian evolution.

As a case in point, the article reports that the team’s attempt to create an actual independently evolving software “brain” (that is, where the entire brain, not isolated segments, continually evolves) “became too complex and simply ground to a halt.” This underscores how the current system is intelligently managed, and how it bypasses the impossibility of an information-carrying system (i.e., a code or language, such as DNA) arising through chance.

Of course, even if someone could somehow prove that biological evolution (in the molecules-to-man sense) was possible, that’s still not the same thing as proving it happened. What God’s Word clearly teaches is that creation was recent and absolutely supernatural.

5. CNN: “Doctor Loses License in Live Birth Abortion Case”

The tragic account of a cold-hearted abortion clinic murder—and the ensuing legal battle—reminds us of the dark connection between abortion and morality. (Warning: revolting content.)

An abortion clinic “mishap” in the state of Florida has—so far—resulted in the murder of a newborn, the revoking of a doctor’s license, and an alleged case of post-traumatic stress disorder. The patient who would have received the abortion is suing the abortion clinic staff and doctor, while the state attorney has yet to conclude the criminal investigation and press charges.

The initial incident reportedly happened back in the summer of 2006. Then 18-year-old Sycloria Williams “discovered” she was 23 weeks pregnant while being treated for a fall. Williams sought an abortion, but—according to her—she instead gave birth while at the abortion clinic. The “screaming” staff was unsure what to do until the clinic co-owner confiscated the living baby and sealed it in a red biohazard bag, which she then threw into the trash.

According to the lawsuit, clinic staff unsurprisingly neither called for medical assistance nor offered it to Williams or the baby. Confusingly, the suit notes that when the abortion clinic doctor, Pierre Jean-Jacques Renelique, arrived, he gave her a shot to put her to sleep then “[s]he awoke after the procedure and was sent home still in complete shock.” It is not clear what procedure was performed.

Police, acting on an anonymous tip about the baby, found “the decomposing body of a baby in a cardboard box in a closet” on their third search of the premises. The baby was confirmed to be Williams’ through DNA testing, and an autopsy showed the cause of death to be “extreme prematurity” (though the baby’s lungs were filled with air).

The legitimacy of Williams’s suit—which claims she suffered “severe emotional distress, shock, and psychic trauma”—seems a bit opportunistic, since she went to the clinic to have the baby killed, which is exactly what was done, albeit not how she’d planned. Nonetheless, CNN quotes police who said “a fetus born alive cannot be put to death even if its mother intended to have an abortion.”

The Florida Medical Board, acting on Florida Department of Health complaints based on the incident, has revoked Renelique’s license on account of falsifying medical records, inappropriately delegating tasks to unlicensed personnel, and committing malpractice.

This story sadly speaks for itself, so we’ll only make two quick comments. First, we can only wonder how many other macabre abortion clinic “mishaps” have occurred over the years where the mother refuses to speak out (and that’s not even including the tragedy of partial birth abortion when performed according to plan, not to mention any abortion).

Second, it’s quite obvious that an individual’s moral foundation largely determines their perspective on abortion. What we overlook, it seems, is how participating in abortion can alter one’s moral norms, specifically in the case of the abortion clinic co-owner who allegedly killed the newborn. Not only does our moral compass frame our laws; our laws in turn affect the moral compass of society. In this case, and as we’ve also seen with embryonic stem cell research (last week especially) we see a steady devaluing of human life.

6. BBC News: “Composer’s Neanderthal Recreation”

In April of last year we heard a Neanderthal voice for the first time. Now it’s time to hear Neanderthal music.

Okay, so the Neanderthal music was actually composed by jazz musician Simon Thorne, who was asked to create a “soundscape” for a Neanderthal exhibit at National Museum Cardiff. The hour-and-a-quarter piece includes vocals as well as stone instruments. The music has proved so popular, however, that it will soon be going on a separate live tour.

BBC News notes that “Despite having a reputation for lacking intelligence, recent research suggests the Neanderthals were a lot more resourceful and innovative than was first thought.” And Throne adds, “Given that Neanderthal’s man brain was about the same size as ours, and much of our brain is given over to language, then you can assume they probably had language too. Every culture has language and music, so we can probably assume that they had some kind of music too.” He added, “[W]ho’s to say Neanderthal man did not invent the beginnings of music?”

Neanderthals have endured more than a few shots at their intelligence from the likes of modern media, but in fact all the evidence shows they were at least as intelligent as the rest of us. We reported last year that ancient music expert Iegor Reznikoff of the University of Paris had made an interesting discovery: the areas of French caves most densely painted by Neanderthals were also those with the best acoustics. It seems the conclusion we drew then still holds:

The classic view of cavemen and other “ancient” humans is that they were brutish, preliterate dolts who had not even a fraction of the culture, sophistication, or intelligence of today’s humans. But research like Reznikoff’s reminds us that our human forebears were incredibly intelligent, skilled in ways most modern humans lack, and—most importantly—created in the image of God.

We hope that some of those who hear Thorne’s Neanderthal soundscape will be aware of that!

7. Cedarville University: “Geology Degree Added to Course Offerings”

Ohio’s Cedarville University, one of relatively few Christian schools of higher education that supports young-earth creation, has launched a major in geology.

The university’s board of trustees approved a bachelor of science in geology, to be offered as of next fall. The school’s news release notes, “The program will be unique in that no other Christian school, that holds to a literal six-day account of Genesis offers geology as a major for undergraduates. The course of study will be taught from both naturalistic and young-earth paradigms of earth history.” In other words, students will be taught to understand the old-earth worldview (as we recommend), but they will also be taught what the Bible teaches and shown a coherent biblical framework for understanding geology.

Associate professor of geology John Whitmore, a regular contributor to Answers magazine, explained, “The degree will offer a whole host of new opportunities for graduates. Geologists help us find clean drinking water, petroleum, natural gas, coal and valuable minerals.” He continued:

“It is extremely important to develop critical thinking skills within the minds of young scientists. We believe that using a two-model approach of earth history will be advantageous to our students, since others are only taught a one-model, naturalistic approach. Geologists are important when it comes to thinking about earth history, especially within a biblical context.”

We applaud Cedarville for their stand on God’s Word and hope the new major helps train a new generation of “scriptural geologists.”

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • The supposed big bang “replicating” Large Hadron Collider won’t be back in operation until late in the year, so we’ll have at least that long before it creates world-destroying black holes. Confused? Check out A Miniature Big Bang or More Hot Air?
  • A fascinating news report in the journal Science describes the intricacies of ant communication. It’s no surprise that the little creatures are more sophisticated than most of us think!
  • A genetic study of some African Pygmies has determined that they likely all descend from the same ancestral population about 2,800 years back. While we don’t completely accept such gene-based dating, it is interesting to consider how various people groups have expanded and subdivided in the roughly 4,000 years since Babel.
  • Human hairs (or so it appears) from allegedly around 250,000 years ago have been found in fossilized hyena dung in South Africa. How did they determine the date? The dung “encompasses the known temporal range in Africa of archaic human species . . . and the emergence of the first anatomically modern humans.” In other words, the old-earth paradigm begets more old-earth dates.
  • We mentioned last week that AiG–UK’s Paul Taylor had been invited to discuss recent issues in the creation/evolution debate on the BBC One program The Big Questions. Readers in the UK can watch that program online.
  • Last week we also reported on British university students who are handing out copies of the Gospel of Mark in response to the infamous “probably no God” bus banners. The Associated Press reports the latest response: three new banners that declare, first “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life”; second, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God”; and third, “There is a God, believe. Don’t worry and enjoy your life.”
  • For more information: Get Answers

    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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