For all the years of proclaiming chimpanzees as our closest living evolutionary cousins, some evolutionists think we may actually be more closely related to orangutans.
Scientists John Grehan of New York’s Buffalo Museum of Science and Jeffrey Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh are behind the new hypothesis. They argue that the genetic evidence most evolutionists use to support a close chimp–human connection is flawed.
Grehan and Schwartz would replace chimps with orangutans, which they believe more closely resemble humans and which (to them) further negates the genetic comparisons between humans and chimpanzees. The duo claim humans share 28 unique physical characteristics with orangutans, versus seven with gorillas and only two with chimpanzees.
Among the shared characteristics between orangutans and humans are “thickly enameled molar teeth with flat surfaces, greater asymmetries between the left and right side of the brain, an increased cartilage-to-bone ratio in the forearm, and similarly shaped shoulder blades,” reports National Geographic News. Schwartz further names a hole in the roof of the mouth, the widest-separated mammary glands [of primates], and the longest hair.
Some of the traits were also matched up with ape fossil remains from Africa and Europe, distant from modern orangutans’ home in Southeast Asia. The scientists believe an ancient, orangutan-like ancestor of humans lived in Africa, Asia, and Europe, with one population eventually giving rise to modern humans while the others evolved in isolation.
Of course, such revolutionary thinking in evolutionary anthropology is ruffling plenty of feathers. “There are many paleontologists and molecular biologists who are heaping scorn on this paper,” said Peter Andrews of London’s Natural History Museum. He added, “It is controversial,” but continued, “I think it is a subject that needed to be aired.”
Grehan and Schwartz rail against the idea that genetic similarities between chimps and humans prove their evolutionary closeness. “When you’re doing a really rigorous analysis of relationships, you don’t just stop at the potential demonstration of similarity. You have to distinguish between features that are widely shared [i.e., among many organisms] and those that are more uniquely shared [between two organisms],” Schwartz explained. He and Grehan believe the reported 96-percent similarity between chimp and human genomes ignores the fact that the data includes such widely shared traits.
The researchers further note that such genetic similarity studies are based on the coding region of the genome, which constitutes only three percent or less of an animal’s DNA. Unsurprisingly, that claim doesn’t faze evolutionist who steadfastly support the chimp–human connection on the basis of other genetic studies.
What is interesting to us is, first, that the evolutionary evidence doesn’t all line up. Our genome appears closer to a chimp’s; our anatomy appears closer to an orangutan’s. The contradictory evidence reminds us that design is a better explanation for similarities. Design can account for such anomalies, whereas evolution cannot. Not only that; in both cases, the similarity is only of “appearance”—one must presuppose evolution to see an evolutionary explanation for such similarities.
The second point of interest to us is these evolutionists’ attack on genetic studies as evidence of close evolutionary relationships. Statistics of chimp–human genetic likeness are often paraded around by news reports as ipso facto evidence that we “really did” share a common ancestor with apes. But Arizona State expert Malte Ebach, commenting on the research, adds:
“They criticize molecular data where criticism is due. Palaeoanthropology is based solely on morphology, and there is no scientific justification to favor DNA over morphological data. Yet the human–chimp relationship, generated by molecular data, has been accepted without any scrutiny.”
Hearing evolutionists themselves attack the weaknesses of such genetic implications saves us the trouble!
In related news, a Chinese fossil has been demoted from apeman status after 15 years. National Geographic News reports on anthropologist Russell Ciochon’s change of mind after he originally classified the fossil as an unknown form of early human because it “didn’t fit in any category of hominin . . . and it also didn’t fit into any ape category.”
Ciochon first believed the fossil was more primitive than Homo erectus, instead perhaps an independent line of human ancestors that evolved in Asia. But new evidence in the last decade suggests the fossil is similar to what is thought to be the fossil of an “orangutan ancestor.”
This story reminds us of the role of speculation in anthropology and other historical sciences. Comparing sparse fossils requires much guesswork and elevates the role of interpretation and the presupposition of evolution, both of humans specifically and all organisms generally. Which brings us to two final related news items. The first concerns Ignacius graybullianus, the supposed cousin of one of our evolutionary ancestors. The second concerns Eritherium azzouzorum, said to be the oldest known elephant ancestor because “two of the creature’s lower front teeth jut a fraction of an inch out from its jaw.” Thus (says one scientist), “This is some kind of precursor of the tusk of the more modern [elephant].”
It sounds like plenty of guesswork and interpretation are going into those conclusions as well!
Dinosaurs: large, terrifying, and surprisingly lightweight?
As far as extinct animals go, dinosaurs are easily the most widely discussed and inspire the most fascination. The mere word conjures up images of the menacing carnivore T. rex towering overhead. But as we have frequently pointed out, the average size of all dinosaurs was probably about like a sheep—which makes the logistics of fitting dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark all the easier.
Now, two new studies suggest that previous calculations of dinosaurs’ weight may have been on the heavy end. The scientists conclude that some dinosaurs were only half as heavy as was previously thought. For instance, the well-known Apatosaurus (which LiveScience describes as “behemoth,” a word used in the Bible in Job 40:15!) was previously estimated to have weighed in at 42 tons (38 t) but by the new calculation is estimated at 20 tons (18 t).
What tipped off Colorado State University’s Gary Packard and Thomas Boardman along with George Mason University’s Geoffrey Birchard was a test of the older calculations on living animals. The resulting tests estimated elephants, for instance, at far heavier than their true mass.
And downsizing dinosaurs’ weights could have long-reaching consequences. Birchard explained, “Think about an animal that big—they would have had to have certain amounts of muscle to move their mass If their mass is lower, the amount of muscle they would have had to have is significantly less. The amount of oxygen they would need could be interpreted to be much less because there’s much less tissue to supply with oxygen.”
He continued, “They were still huge animals, I don’t think anyone would dispute that. They might be half as big, but half of something that’s really huge is still really huge.” A recently found allosaurus tooth—nearly 4 inches (10 cm) long—corroborates that.
Creationists have already answered logistical questions about how dinosaur representatives could have fit on the Ark. For one thing, not all species of dinosaur needed to be on board, but instead only two of every dinosaur kind (a taxonomic group roughly equivalent to the family designation). For another thing, the dinosaurs on the Ark may have been juvenile—and thus less than their full (adult) size.
Finally, as noted above, the average size of all dinosaurs is estimated (based on fossils) to have been about like that of a sheep. The discovery that scientists have overestimated dinosaurs’ weight (and perhaps, consequently, their necessary muscle mass) further increases the plausibility of dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark.
Scientists have found [indirect evidence of liquid water, which can be spun through evolutionary interpretations as indirect evidence of] life on one of Saturn’s moons!
The Cassini space probe has detected sodium salts near the south pole of Enceladus, one of the larger moons of Saturn. To astrobiologists, sodium is an indirect sign of liquid water, as liquid water will leach sodium out of rock over a period of time.
Scientists already knew water vapor and ice were actively emanating from Enceladus, and this discovery only fuels their hopes of finding conditions for life on the planet. The researchers believe the water may exist in underground caverns, with the vapors and salt released through cracks in the surface. They even speculate the existence of a subsurface ocean.
The amount of salt is minimal, however: less than two percent of the expelled ice, too little to be detected from Earth. Cassini researcher Frank Postberg of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics explained, “Water droplets are probably lifted by gas bubbles in the water (like the spray you see above sparkling water).”
But Nicholas Schneider of the University of Colorado–Boulder cautioned that the existence of water was only one of several possibilities: “It could still be warm ice vaporizing away into space. It could even be places where the crust rubs against itself from tidal motions and the friction creates liquid water that would then evaporate into space.” He added, “These are all hypotheses but we can’t verify any one with the results so far.” Yet in a recording on BBC News, Postberg declares, “I’m sure we have [liquid water].”
Schneider’s skepticism may not extend to the entire astrobiology community. Cassini researcher John Spencer of Colorado’s Southwest Research Institute told the BBC, “We need three ingredients for life, as far as we know—liquid water, energy, and the basic chemical building blocks—and we seem to have all three at Enceladus, including some fairly complex organic molecules. That’s not to say there is life on Enceladus but certainly the ‘feedstock’ is there for life to use if it does exist.”
Any hint that liquid water could exist elsewhere in space, even without confirmation—or even that water once may have existed—attracts a pack of evolutionary speculation. The speculation is rooted in the unproven idea that (as Spencer said) life needs only water, energy, and “basic chemical building blocks.” Yet no scientific experiment shows that life could arise from only those ingredients; such is the required speculation of metaphysical naturalism.
Three stories this week provide salient reminders of the design apparent in creation—whether it be in structures we’re just beginning to understand, or in engineers taking cues from nature to construct their machines.
Scientists at the University of Leeds and the University of Bristol have examined the amazing cellular capability to ensure proper building of proteins, which is crucial for the ongoing function of a life-form. But such “quality assurance” mechanisms are “not fully understood.” One of the team members even noted, “Scientists have been puzzled as to how this process makes so few mistakes” and continued, “Statistically, we would expect to see a hundred-fold more errors than we actually do.”
The answer may lie in “miniature scissors” that can cut out letters of an RNA sequence if error is detected before copying resumes. “The mechanism we’ve modeled has only recently been shown to be implicated in proofreading,” explains the team member. “In fact, there is more than one identified mechanism for ensuring that genetic code is copied correctly. The challenge now is to find out—through a combination of experimental biology and modeling—which mechanism is dominant.”
Not only does Darwinian evolution have to account for the genetic information that results in functional anatomy; it also must explain the piecemeal development of such sophisticated quality control and biological management machinery.
The human eye has sometimes been a target for accusations of “bad design” (read more in Is our ‘inverted’ retina really ‘bad design’?). But Boston College computer scientists have created a new computer technique that is inspired by the human eye’s behavior.
Calling it a solution to “one of the most vexing challenges to advancing computer vision,” the report states that scientists developed a new set of algorithms to help streamline the computer’s work in recognizing elements of a live image (by matching them to other images).
“When the human eye searches for an object it looks globally for the rough location, size and orientation of the object. Then it zeros in on the details. Our method behaves in a similar fashion, using a linear approximation to explore the search space globally and quickly; then it works to identify the moving object by frequently updating trust search regions,” explained one of the researchers.
The technique has increased the speed of matching by 10 times relative to previous methods, and tests show a 95 percent success rate (compared to 50 percent for previous methods)—yet “at a fraction of the complexity.”
So much for “bad design”!
A toxic molecule known as superoxide may be behind birds’ ability to detect the Earth’s magnetic field. The discovery is based on the idea that a blue-light photoreceptor called cryptochrome is part of what makes birds sensitive to magnetic fields, which are said to influence fast-occurring chemical reactions. In these chemical reactions, electron transfers result in tumbling electron spins that “behave like an axial compass,” explained one of the researchers, affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.
The research suggests that negatively charged superoxide is a reaction partner that interacts with cryptochrome, facilitating the birds’ detection of magnetic fields. But what of superoxide’s toxicity?
The researcher noted, “I realized that the toxicity of superoxide was actually crucial to its role.” Mechanisms for reducing the concentration of superoxide prevent its damaging effects, and the resulting low concentrations help ensure the biochemical compass works correctly.
Once again, does such a sophisticated system—involving quantum mechanics and a careful management of a would-be toxic substance—sound more like design, or more like an evolutionary accident?
Neanderthals, though so often treated as subhuman, left a growing amount of evidence to remind us of their humanity.
A new study in the Journal of Archaeology considers what Neanderthal techniques would have helped them survive “the often chilly conditions of Northern Europe.”
Researcher Bent Sorensen of Roskilde University began by considering the body size of Neanderthals (based on skeletal remains) and estimated climate conditions in Europe. He then calculated how much energy would be necessary for settlement, hunting, and sleeping during the cold winters, with the conclusion that fires wouldn’t have been enough for warmth.
Sorensen believes Neanderthals wore tailored clothing, such as “one or two layers of skins/furs and wrapped skins/furs for shoes, held together by leather strings.” He believes Neanderthal teeth show signs that they chewed hides to soften them, necessary for making clothes. Other tools associated with Neanderthals, such as hide scrapers and points for making holes in hides, support his hypothesis that Neanderthals were skilled tailors.
Sorensen also calculated that Neanderthal groups would have required some 1,792 pounds (813 kg) of meat per month, or about one mammoth every seven weeks. But because of evidence that Neanderthals went on the proverbial road to hunt, Sorensen wondered how they transported the meat back home.
“Carrying dried meat from a mammoth home could . . . be done by seven to eight round trips [over] 14 to 16 days,” he concluded. If true, that would make Neanderthals the first Europeans to transport meat successfully over long distances (without letting it rot).
With every discovery about Neanderthals, we learn something more about their sophistication. Each report reminds us that—aside from minor anatomical differences (such as a bigger brain, probably)—Neanderthals were just like us, living similarly to many human civilizations of the past few hundred years. Descendants of Adam through Noah, they were merely one group of humans whose genetic traits are largely gone from our world today.
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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