Rapid evolution—“evolving in ways that would normally take millions of years to play out,” says National Geographic News. How does it confirm the Bible?
Five adult pairs of the Italian wall lizard were moved from one Croatian island to another in 1971 in an experiment now revealed to have “shocking” results, Kimberly Johnson writes.
“We didn’t know if we would find a lizard there. We had no idea if the original introductions were successful,” explained biologist Duncan Irschick of the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Yet when the scientists returned to the island—far later than originally planned, partially due to years of warfare in the region—the island was “swarming with lizards.” Genetic tests confirm that the modern population of lizards all descended from the ten pioneers transplanted to the island almost 40 years ago.
Plenty of “evolution” has happened in the meantime, including:
All of these transformations have taken place in approximately 30 lizard generations, astonishingly quick compared to the long evolutionary timeline many scientists adhere to. “That’s unparalleled. What’s most important is how fast this is,” Irschick explained.
The most intriguing discovery is the allegedly “completely new gut structure” of the lizards. According to the article, the original lizards were “not built to digest a vegetarian diet,” while the island they were transplanted to is filled with plants.
But the lizards today have developed cecal valves, which Johnson describes as “muscles between the large and small intestine . . . that slowed down food digestion in fermenting chambers, which allowed their bodies to process the vegetation’s cellulose into volatile fatty acids.” This “brand-new structure,” as Irschick calls it, allowed the lizards to digest plant material.
But Answers in Genesis anatomist David Menton, after reviewing the research, noted that the original lizards did have the ability to digest plant material; they simply preferred insects for roughly 95 percent of their dietary needs. (This is also in line with the Bible’s teaching that all animals were originally vegetarian—which would mean these lizards’ ancestors, at least, had the capability to digest plants, and that genetic information could exist latently in the modern lizards.)
Furthermore, Menton adds, “The ‘new’ muscular valve they found between the small and large intestine is simply an enlargement of muscles already present in the gut wall at this juncture.” In other words, far from being a truly new feature, the shift in available food allowed lizards with larger muscles at the juncture to be more successful at feeding and reproducing.
Menton also suggests that if the lizards were returned to their original habitat, the cecal valve feature may dwindle as the lizards returned to an insectivorous diet.
Apparently the researchers aren’t even sure about the genetic basis for the change, another suggestion that the “evolution” did not involve any new genetic information in the lizards. McGill University biologist Andrew Hendry noted, “All of this might be evolution. The logical next step would be to confirm the genetic basis for these changes” (emphasis added). Hendry wonders, as Menton suggests, if the change was simply the lizards’ “plastic response to the environment.”
Thus, once again, this so-called “evolution” is possibly just natural selection acting on pre-existing genetic information, helping a population adapt to its surroundings. However, without knowing the exact genetic or epigenetic mechanism(s) underlying the change, we can’t determine exactly what is going on, biologically speaking. (To read more about the possibilities, read Life: Designed by God to Adapt.)
More important (as Irschick said) is the speed of the changes, which reminds us of how quickly the original created kinds could have varied into the biodiversity we see today (interrupted by the Noachian Flood event).
Along similar lines, a recent study of guppy populations showed that when introduced into new habitats, the guppies “developed new and advantageous traits in just a few years.” In particular, the guppies’ reproductive strategies differed based on the presence of predators.
“The fact that fitness differences were found after only eight years shows just how fast evolution can work—for short-lived species anyway,” the press release on the study states. But once again, this rapid adaptation (which can lead to speciation) fits well within the creation model.
Laboratory scientists designing robots, then making changes to improve the robots’ success—is that really evolution?
We’ve reported before on scientists using robots to (allegedly) imitate evolution—see February 14 of this year and February 24, 2007. Now, another team is trying to simulate evolution through sophisticated robots.
The two robots are called Tadiator (the predator) and Preyro (the prey), and together they act out their own ecological system, swimming in a laboratory pool at Vassar College. Because each is capable of swimming, scientists can modify Preyro’s tail to try to help it avoid Tadiator.
“We’re applying selection, just like natural selection,” said John Long, a Vassar biology and cognitive science professor. Long believes the process is helping scientists better understand why certain animals (swimming animals, in this case) evolved to swim the way the do (supposedly)—or did, in the case of extinct creatures.
Long and his students alter the stiffness of Preyro’s backbone with plastic rungs and a column that runs along the tail. Changing that variable, not the size of Preyro’s tail, helps it escape Tadiator more effectively.
Another of Long’s robots, called Madeleine, investigates why an ancient pliosaur called Predator X used two sets of flippers to swim, unlike modern animals that use one set of flippers to move and the other to steer. Long concluded that while the four-flipper approach to swimming is less efficient overall, it does allow faster acceleration, perhaps a key to catching prey.
Comparing his research to computer simulations, Long noted, “The thing about robots is, robots can’t violate the laws of physics. A computer program can.”
Although such simulations can certainly be useful testbeds for understanding why creatures are designed the way they are, nothing about the simulations confirms evolution. On the contrary, Long and his students are intelligent agents who intentionally design and redesign the robot anatomy, much closer to artificial selection than natural selection. Robots are a terrific reminder that intelligent design explains complex structures at least as well as—and usually far better than—evolutionary ideas.
Week after week, scientists are reporting more sources and ways to produce embryonic-like stem cells out of adults cells. Now the stem cell research news turns to pigs.
A Chinese team has enabled cells from adult pigs to transform into any type of body tissue (the primary goal of stem cell research). The team harvested cells from a pig’s ear and bone marrow, then used chemicals and a virus to reprogram the cells (as in other stem cell induction efforts).
The scientists hope the technique could have applications to disease research. For example, lead researcher Lei Xiao of the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology notes that this could pave the way for growing organs in pigs designed for transplant into humans. Also, the cells could be programmed to replicate human diseases in pigs, giving researchers the ability to test therapies without using human patients.
“This breakthrough to produce pig stem cells potentially reinvigorates the quest to grow humanized pig organs such as pancreases for diabetics and kidneys for chronic renal failure,” Chris Mason, a medical expert from University College London, told the BBC.
ScienceNOW reports on two other recent successes at producing embryonic-like stem cells without killing human embryos.
In one of the successes, researchers led by Kwang-Soo Kim of Harvard Medical School demonstrated that skin cells from newborn humans can be reprogrammed into stem cells without using foreign genes (i.e., a virus)—a technique that has been linked with cancer. The new method was first demonstrated two months ago by scientists at the Scripps Research Institute, though only in tests on mice. (We covered that news in our May 2 edition.) Thus, Kim’s team has shown the technique works on humans.
The other story is that a joint U.S.–Spanish team has created “genetically tailored” stem cells derived from skin cells found that may be useful for treating patients with Fanconi anemia, a bone marrow disease. The skin cells were reprogrammed into blood stem cells with the traditional virus-utilizing method.
Finally, OneNewsNow also reports on a recent therapeutic success of adult stem cells that saved a Texas boy from sickle-cell anemia. Each of these breakthroughs, like the many we’ve reported on before, remind us that stem cells harvested by killing human embryos are entirely unnecessary. The life-honoring route of inducing stem cells makes more sense from both ethical and practical perspectives.
“Sex and coupling up in our world do not necessarily have anything to do with reproduction.” Is that what the animal world confirms?
Many readers have likely already heard stories of two male zoo penguins rearing a penguin chick together. In fact, our coverage last week of the Alameda, California, curriculum battle mentioned the book And Tango Makes Three, which is based on one such incident. According to BBC News, the same situation is unfolding in a German zoo, where male penguins Z and Vielpunkt are “happily” raising a penguin chick from an egg that was given to them.
“Since the chick arrived, they have been behaving just as you would expect a heterosexual couple to do. The two happy fathers spend their days attentively protecting, caring for and feeding their adopted offspring,” a statement from the zoo said.
The BBC News report notes that the zoo has had three pairs of male penguins in the past that have attempted to mate with one another. The male penguins have even tried to hatch penguin chicks from stones. At one point, the zoo flew in four females to induce the male penguins to reproduce, but the females were removed after “causing outrage among gay rights activists, who accused [the zoo] of interfering in the animals’ behavior.”
We don’t see how anyone can consider such zoo behavior proof that these penguins’ apparent “homosexuality” is a sign that the behavior is normal or natural; after all, the penguins have been artificially separated from females, and certainly no one would suggest that trying to hatch penguin chicks from stones is normal, healthy behavior.
Not only does the behavior of these captive penguins not necessarily make homosexuality “natural,” but even observations of homosexuality and other behaviors in nature doesn’t mean this behavior is appropriate for humans. ScienceNOW reports this week on “coveting” among capuchin monkeys, and what appear to be their clever methods of stealing one another’s food.
An interesting perspective on the whole topic of animal behavior, normality, and morality comes in the form of a new book, Wild Justice, by Marc Bekoff of the University of Colorado–Boulder. The Telegraph reports several examples of apparent morality in the animal world, which Bekoff believes show that “species ranging from mice to primates are governed by moral codes of conduct in the same way as humans.”
That concept can in no way be reconciled with evolutionary ideas unless such patterns of morality can be demonstrated to have selective advantage, in which case there is no such “morality” in the first place. But on the other hand, moral designs in animals matches up with a glimpse we see in Genesis 1:30, where God restricts food consumption among all animals to eating only plants, and again in a similar passage in Genesis 9:5. Only God knows the full mysteries of the animal world (and plant world, etc.) and the extent to which animal interactions was affected by the Curse. Nonetheless, animal behavior—both good and bad—gives us a reminder that what is “natural” is not necessarily right.
Home Bible studies—do you need government approval to host one?
In a scenario frighteningly redolent of repressed societies, a San Diego pastor and his wife were recently told they needed a permit to host a weekly Bible study in their home. That requirement should alarm not only anyone who attends such a Bible study, but also anyone who values the freedoms of religion and peaceable assembly mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
According to Rev. David Jones and his wife, Mary, a code enforcement official of San Diego County visited their home. After asking questions to confirm that the roughly 15-member group met for religious purposes (e.g., asking whether the group prayed), the official cited the couple for a violation of county regulations. He then informed the Joneses that they would need a “major use” permit (which could cost several thousand dollars to obtain) before continuing religious assembly. Several legal organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, came out in support of the Joneses.
Thankfully, San Diego area 10News reports that the situation has been resolved, and according to the county’s chief administrative officer, it was all basically a misunderstanding: “The county has never tried to stifle religious express and never will. This is a land use issue; it is not an issue of religious expression.” However, the Joneses still believe the incident was motivated by the religious nature of the meetings at their home.
Regardless of the true motivation behind this incident, Christians must remember the blessing it is to live in a country where there is no persecution (constitutionally, anyway) of individuals for their beliefs. Incidents such as these are also a reminder for us to pray for our brothers and sisters in the many places where worship, Bible study, and evangelism put Christians in mortal danger (Matthew 5:11).
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