1. National Post: “Darwin on the Half-Shell”

Answers in Genesis has once again been bullied on the news media playground.

Colby Cosh, writing in Canada’s National Post, finally got around to using fossils described several months back in the journal Nature as ammo against Answers in Genesis. The fossils, dubbed Odontochelys, were discovered in southwestern China; researchers published a short description last fall.

Regular News to Note readers may remember our full response to the find last December. In that item, we quoted ScienceNOW reporter Erik Stokstad, who commented that the fossils “raise more questions than they answer.” We continued:

Several media headlines, such as the BBC’s, suggest the find answers how the turtle got its shell; for instance, the BBC News article claims the find “shows that the turtle’s breast plate developed earlier than the rest of its shell.” But the ScienceNOW report makes it clear that, actually, the fossil has prompted several different interpretations by evolutionists. For example, the Chicago Field Museum’s Olivier Rieppel, one of the scientists describing the fossils, believes Odontochelys is the most primitive of turtles. But University of Toronto–Mississauga scientists Robert Reisz and Jason Head suggest that perhaps Odontochelys did, in fact, descend from land-based turtles, but lost the bones in its armor along the way, much like modern soft-shelled turtles. And Yale’s Walter Joyce wonders if Odontochelys is just an “oddity,” while study coauthor Chun Li of the Chinese Academy of Sciences calls Odontochelys “an ideal missing link for turtle evolution.”
So with all the various ideas on turtle evolution batted about in the news over the past three months, it seems we could suggest almost any story for turtle origins. Ours is that God created turtles—likely at least two distinct kinds, during Creation Week. Since then, turtle populations have lost genetic information through natural selection and mutations, so the turtles preserved by the Flood—and those we find today—are more diverse than the original created turtles, and may well be missing some features.

So even evolutionists wildly disagreed over where Odontochelys fits in grand scheme of turtle history, with some of them suggesting Odontochelys was a descendent, not an ancestor, of fully armored land-based turtles. Certainly, of all fossils to use to attack creationists, Odontochelys isn’t one of them!

Back to Colby Cosh and his recent broadside against Answers in Genesis: in his column from last week, he states:

Creationists have long noted, correctly, that the fossil record was curiously silent on details concerning turtle evolution. Although turtles are very old, and strongly distinct from other reptiles, there have been no transitional forms to indicate how they first developed their unique shells.

Cosh went a step further, referencing Answers in Genesis and linking to Paula Weston’s article Turtles in Creation 21(1), published back in 1999. Cosh quotes Weston, who had quoted another creationist who explained, “[A]n incomplete [turtle] shell would give little protection. Any tiny advantage would be far outweighed by the serious disadvantages of a cumbersome hindrance in getting away from predators.” She concluded (as Cosh quoted), “[T]urtles should be instantly recognizable as turtles, with the shell and other unique features fully formed from the start, and no series of ‘pre-turtle ancestors’ should be found.”

For Cosh, then, Odontochelys clearly refutes Weston’s claim. He declares that Odontochelys “confirm[s] that the first turtles, who were probably aquatic, developed the hard plastron on their underbellies first to protect them from below” and that “[t]his discovery . . . goes to show why working biologists exhibit such exasperation when Darwinian evolution is challenged.”

Before the end, Cosh tosses out other canards, such as implying that evidence of natural selection and the success of Mendelian genetics supports evolution. Nowhere does he show any awareness of evolutionists’ criticism and disagreement over Odontochelys. It seems Cosh bought the “official” tale of Odontochelys hook, line, and sinker—perhaps wrongly assuming the artist’s interpretation was an objective representation of the actual fossils (1, 2).

At the risk of sounding redundant, we must emphasize again that creationist models easily explain Odontochelys:

  1. Assuming the shell-less interpretation of the fossils is correct (and Odontochelys isn’t a mere “oddity,” as Yale’s Walter Joyce suggests), Odontochelys was probably a descendant of earlier, fully shelled turtles (as Reisz and Head argue). That means Odontochelys has lost genetic information, the opposite of what molecules-to-man evolution requires.
  2. An alternative creationist explanation is that God did, in fact, create a unique type of marine reptile with a bony plastron (belly armor) only. That interpretation is no more projected onto the fossils themselves than is the idea that they represent evolution.

So once again, we see that a presupposed interpretive framework is the key to understanding the actual fossils.

2. LiveScience: “Snail Shells Getting Longer”

Snails of today have longer shells than snails of yesterday—is it evolution in action?

A study led by Jonathan Fisher of Queen’s University has revealed a “dramatic increase” in the size of certain Atlantic Ocean snail shells. Fisher and his team measured a host of historical snail shells from the collections of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. They then compared the size to modern snail shell samples retrieved from the same natural locations.

The researchers found that in a little under a century, snail shell lengths have increased 22.6 percent. Although the team is not entirely sure why the snails are growing larger over time, other researchers have found that larger snails spend more time eating and less time resting than their smaller kin. Fisher also notes that there are fewer predatory fish nowadays; presumably the predatory fish would prefer to prey on larger snails. Finally, today’s water temperature is warmer, which could encourage the growth of larger snails.

Although we haven’t seen the word yet, our guess is that it will only be a matter of time before someone reads Fisher’s research and declares, “evolution in action!” If one defines evolution simply as “change” (or, more precisely, as change in the gene frequencies in a population), this could indeed be an example of evolution. But watch out for the bait-and-switch—the argument that this sort of “evolution” proves that molecules could have evolved into men over millions of years.

3. ScienceDaily: “Human Adult Testes Cells Can Become Embryonic-like”

Scientists have found yet another method to induce adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells (that is, without destroying human embryos).

The researchers, from Georgetown University Medical Center, have converted testicular stem cells (from adult testes) into pluripotent stem cells through a simple method. According to the team, the cells are “potentially capable of morphing into any cell type that a body needs, from brain neurons to pancreatic tissue.” Not only did these stem cells not require the use (and destruction) of an embryo; the conversion also took place without the use of additional genes, making it safer for their eventual use in humans. The ScienceDaily report continues:

Being able to use adult stem cells for this type of cell-based therapy offers a number of advantages over other strategies currently being explored, says [study leader Martin] Dym. The use of embryonic stem cells is controversial because it necessitates destruction of an embryo, and pushing fully mature cells, such as skin cells, back into a stem-like state requires use of cancer genes, and has therefore been viewed as potentially risky for human treatment, he says.

In this style of treatment, men could easily be treated using their own cells, which normally are converted to sperm but are induced in the lab to be pluripotent. The cells can even be frozen and used in the future. Dym explained, “Given these advances, and with further validation, it is possible that in the not-too-distant-future, men could be cured of disease with a biopsy of their own testes.”

While much more research will surely be required, we can praise God for yet another avenue of life-honoring stem cells that may one day be used in medical treatments.

4. BBC News: “Darwin’s ‘Gentleman’ Student Days”

It’s the next step in the “hero worship” culture surrounding Charles Darwin: examining his every recorded move.

Since 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, we’ve grown accustomed to reading article after article fleshing out his milieu and positing what elements in his background contributed to On the Origin of Species (150 years old this year).

What we had not foreseen, however, was the minor hubbub over the release of some of Darwin’s university-day bills. Six books have been posted online that show how Darwin spent money during his time at Cambridge University from 1828 to 1831.

BBC News and the AAAS Origins blog both focus on Darwin’s extra payment to have vegetables with every meal. “He does spend a lot on food,” noted John van Wyhe, director of the Darwin Online website, who added, “Darwin was a little on the expensive side.” Darwin’s room at the university was one of the best and most expensive.

Darwin also paid for such luxuries as an occasional housekeeper, a shoe-polisher, and someone to bring coal for and stoke his fire. Yet the books do not indicate Darwin bought many books or study materials. “Darwin famously spent little of his time at Cambridge studying or in lectures, preferring to shoot, ride, and collect beetles,” said a spokesman from Cambridge. What the BBC News and Origins coverage omits—though the Mail considered it headline worthy—is that Darwin spent more even on shoes than on books.

5. BBC News: “Tracked Asteroid Debris Collected”

An asteroid has collided with the earth! But we’re happy to report that the earth won.

The car-sized asteroid 2008 TC3 was first detected last October as it tumbled toward our planet just before a collision that decisively favored the earth. The asteroid disintegrated above Sudan, but researchers recovered 47 fragments they believe to be from the asteroid (they later recovered 233 more fragments, reports National Geographic News). According to a report in Nature, this is the first time debris has been collected from an asteroid tracked as it fell to earth.

According to report author Peter Jenniskens, the asteroid exploded at 23 miles (37 km) above the earth’s surface. Intriguingly, however, the asteroid fragments have a unique chemical makeup marking it as a ureilite, a rare type of asteroid, the team writes. National Geographic News reports that ureilites are thought to make up only 1.3 percent of all known asteroids.

The researchers believe 2008 TC3 may have been “relatively young, having spent only a few million years in the inner solar system,” BBC News reports, though the statement was not justified.

6. LiveScience: “Scientists Tell Texas: Time to Evolve”

Texas and evolution seem to be popular sibling topics in the news these days.

Last week we described the battle underway in the Texas congress over whether private, nonprofit schools should have to follow state educational restrictions—a debate centered around the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research’s desire to offer master’s degrees.

This week, the news is focused again on the curriculum debate in the state, which we reported on in January. The debate concerned a 20-year-old requirement in the state science curriculum for students to explore “the strengths and weaknesses” of various scientific theories. Evolutionists agitated for state school board members to drop the phrase, arguing that it opened the door to teaching creation (with news media wrongly implying the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase only applied to origins education).

Earlier in the week, a group of scientists in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science sent a letter asking the board to “reject amendments to the state’s draft science standards that would undermine sound science teaching.” The letter refers to a proposed amendment requiring students to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency and insufficiency of common ancestry.” The letter also congratulated the board for “[doing] the students of Texas a great service” in removing the “strengths and weaknesses” language, although the LiveScience article misleadingly calls it an “insertion of language” rather than an already-existing 20-year-old requirement.

The AAAS news release describing the letter also references the compromising Clergy Letter Project signed by evolutionist pastors, stating—almost humorously—that 500 clergy from Texas have signed it. How significant are 500 compromising clergy in a state of more than 20 million people? Nonetheless, it shows the sad influence of pastors who are willing to mesh (or try to mesh) Christianity and molecules-to-man evolution.

On Thursday, the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase came to another vote but again failed to pass, as Baptist News reports. (The vote was actually 7–7, with a majority required to approve the language.) The report also mentions how the Texas science standards influence science textbooks, as Texas’s size gives it significant influence over publishers.

On Friday, there was somewhat better news out of Texas. The state board ratified new standards that would require students in biology classes to “analyze, evaluate and critique” scientific theories and that students are to examine “all sides of scientific evidence.” In addition, “critical thinking” is encouraged. While this is short of requiring the teaching of problems with certain scientific theories (as had been the case for 20 years), this compromise wording at least does not shut down all opportunities for teachers to critique evolution

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Could humans be facing “dysevolution”? According to anthropologist Daniel Lieberman, “Our bodies are not that well designed for the world we have created.” Lieberman believes part of the reason humans evolved was our consumption of high-energy food sources, but he attacks fast food and sugar-rich snacks as conflicting with humanity’s declining rate of physical exertion. He also argues that culture interferes with natural selection, encouraging “the protection of people who physically might not survive in a hunter-gatherer society” and allowing the rise of diseases like diabetes and myopia. “We need to think more like Darwin and act more like hunter-gatherers,” says Lieberman, who claims we should outlaw fast food and enact measures to force more walking and exercise.
  • Scientists have found water on Mars. (Pardon our apparent apathy; while there certainly could be briny pools on Mars, as the article suggests, evolutionists’ game of crying wolf grows stale.)
  • Want a look at the depressing worldview of the consistent anti-creationist? John Rennie argues that we’re “nothing special” and clings to the unprovable Copernican principle as strongly as Christians should cling to their Bibles. But if what he says is true, what delirium has caused him to write it down, or believe anyone should care (let alone comprehend)?
  • “Finding a complete fossilized animal is extremely rare. Soft tissues tend to decay rapidly after death, and harder parts tend to disarticulate or break into pieces, often leaving very few clues as to what the original animals looked like.” Consider that quote the teaser to a LiveScience article on an exceptionally well-preserved—but otherwise mysterious—fossil.
  • ScienceNOW carries a report that indicates the emotions conveyed by music are universally identifiable. While researchers chalk this up to Darwinian evolution, it seems to fit much better with the model of humans as created in the image of God.
  • The Gisborne Herald published a letter to the editor that makes a good point about the philosophical foundations of science (and, specifically, the problem of induction). Anyone who understands the role of presuppositions should smile as they read it!
  • According to a writer on political site Townhall, the new U.S. Secretary of Education wants to encourage “students to ask tough, challenging questions.” Yet the secretary also said, “Whether it’s global warming, evolution or stem cell research, science will be honored.” In other words, it sounds like some questions will still be off-limits!
  • In a sad story, the Mail reports on a generally unreported danger of abortion clinics: death of the mother. And perhaps even more tragic—yet eerily “coincidental” (some might say)—is news of a plane crash that killed nine family members and family friends of a California abortion clinic owner. The “coincidence” is that the plane crashed in a cemetery near a memorial for aborted and other unborn children. (Our prayers are with both families.)

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