1. National Geographic News: “First Animals Evolved in Lakes, Not Oceans, Study Hints”

The first animals didn’t evolve in the ocean, claims a controversial new study. Instead, the study suggests the earliest animals called a saltwater lake home.

For years, the standard evolutionary story for life’s origins was that the first form of life arose in a primordial sea; the earliest animals (perhaps sponges) evolved millions of years later; and millions of years later still animals finally crawled onto the continents.

Martin Kennedy, a geologist at the University of California–Riverside, says of the ocean-favoring view, “It just seems like a fairly reasonable thing to assume, given the chemical and environmental stability of the oceans.” Of course, “fairly reasonable” assumptions aren’t necessarily solid science. Kennedy and other scientists are challenging the traditional view in a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team researched the Doushantuo formation in China, a fossil bed with embryonic representatives from many of the supposed earliest animals, including sponges, corals, and jellyfish-like creatures. Among the chemical remains at Doushantuo is the mineral smectite, which forms in salty, alkaline lakes but not in oceans. Yet these fossil remains are dated older than the oldest animal remains from marine sediments.

According to the researchers, the scenario can be explained by lakes’ faster absorption of atmospheric oxygen relative to oceans’ ability. “It would have taken the oceans much more time to have the same oxygen concentration that this lake had during this time,” Kennedy said. That would allow evolutionists, based on their interpretation of the fossil record, to conclude that animals evolved in lakes before oceans.

This hypothesis creates a few evolutionary riddles, however. First, evolutionists believe most lakes last on the order of thousands of years—far less time than they think complex life-forms would have taken to evolve. But the researchers believe the lake at Doushantuo endured for tens of millions of years (presumably based on the fossil layers at the site), answering that riddle.

Second, if the authors believe these unique organisms evolved in this lake only, then why would similar organisms appear around the world? Otherwise one wonders how the animals that supposedly evolved in the Doushantuo lake propagated themselves across the planet. Assuming the lake was separated from the ocean, which itself would have lacked sufficient oxygen, the organisms that evolved at Doushantuo would have disappeared whenever the lake disappeared. The only alternative (not mentioned by the team) would be if the same organisms evolved simultaneously in other lakes or later in the ocean.

The third riddle is how such complex, divergent life-forms evolved so quickly, regardless of the “where.” We consider molecules-to-man evolution implausible even given hundreds of millions of years in one continuous habitat. Squeezing the evolutionary timetable by constricting the evolution to supposedly short-lived lakes raises our incredulity.

Another question that goes beyond the team’s hypothesis is simply how and why the Doushantuo formation contains a slew of embryo fossils—but embryo fossils only. Much of the Doushantuo mystery, we think, will remain shrouded in the inaccessible past. What we can say confidently is that the new evolutionary riddles posed by this research leave us even more skeptical of old-earth interpretations of the fossil record. The preservation of animals in the fossil record is better explained by, e.g., different ecological niches rapidly preserved during the catastrophic processes that initiated the Flood of Noah’s Day.

2. BBC News: “Fossil Is ‘Earliest Tree-Dweller’”

Fossil specimens discovered in Russia 15 years ago have finally landed in the news—for reasons including the fact that they were millions of years “ahead of schedule.”

Let’s begin with the raw, undisputed facts: the fossilized skeletons (15 found together) have been named Suminia getmanovi, were found in Russia in 1994, and lived 260 million years ago. Okay, scratch that last “fact,” because that is where the story gets interesting.

The authors on the recent study of the fossils (published in July in Proceedings of the Royal Society B) base their date of S. getmanovi only by the rock layer the specimens were found in (late Permian). The date of 260 million years ago places S. getmanovi earlier than what are generally considered the earliest mammals, and far earlier than the rise of mammals some 200 million years later.

Yet S. getmanovi has features that make it suspiciously mammal-like. Most notable are opposable thumbs—the earliest evidence of them in the fossil record (according to old-earth interpretations). The authors state, “Unseen in any other Palaeozoic vertebrate [is] the widely divergent first digit with an angle of approximately 30–40° to the remaining digits[.]” Most animals that have five digits per appendage (as does S. getmanovi), with one opposable at that angle, are mammals.

Unusually, S. getmanovi had long hands and feet, making up approximately half the length of each appendage. Its limbs were long relative to its body as well; the latest fossils are only around 20 inches (50 cm) in total length from nose to tail.

Considering all the fossilized anatomical features, the researchers believe S. getmanovi was ideally suited for an arboreal lifestyle. “It’s exciting to see the evidence of an initial and successful evolutionary change or diversification that was successful and allowed these small animals to live in the trees,” explained Jorg Frobisch of Chicago’s Field Museum.

Noting that many of its features are mammalian, University of Cambridge paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris said, “It shows once again that things in evolution can happen far earlier than might be expected. In this case a vertebrate, specifically a synapsid—from which the mammals themselves emerged—was ahead of the game of climbing trees. In fact it was about 30 million years ahead of schedule.” (BBC News notes a 100-million-year “gap” between S. getmanovi and the earliest tree-dwelling mammals.)

Our question is, what dictates that S. getmanovi was not a true, tree-loving mammal? It seems that the location of the specimens in the fossil record (and, hence, the constraints of evolutionary presuppositions and dating) is the key reason why the creature is considered separate from modern mammals, despite the similarities. (We must be clear, however, that we can not say for sure if S. getmanovi was a mammal.) In order to preserve the evolutionary dating scheme, the researchers must appeal to the unproven idea of “convergent evolution”—that the same features (e.g., opposable thumbs), sometimes evolve over and over again in separate lineages. (The paper states, “[A]daptations to life in trees evolved through convergent evolution[.]”) Whatever these creatures may have been, evolution is clouding and corrupting our understanding and taxonomic classification.

At the very least, it is clear that S. getmanovi was designed well to live in a specific environment. And one final note that we would be remiss to omit, even though we mention it incessantly: the burial of 15 S. getmanovi specimens immediately together is yet another challenge to the slow-and-gradual fossilization model presented by uniformitarians.

For more information:

3. New Scientist: “Apes May Imitate but They Struggle to Innovate”

Chimpanzees have proven to be quite skillful at learning certain basic tasks—particularly those related to obtaining food—but even evolutionists have to admit that “technological innovation and improvement seem to be uniquely human traits.”

Recent experiments comparing tool-use abilities in apes and humans reveal unsurprising results (at least, to creationists). While many apes have a profound ability for tool use, scientists have found significant limits to their abilities.

One test pitted four-year-old children against multiple varieties of apes (chimps, gorillas, and orangutans) in a challenge to claim a prize. Each subject had to learn to make a loop out of a piece of string, then use the loop to pull on a nail attached to a block. If successful, the apes got access to grapes and the children got stickers. Most of the children who saw the technique demonstrated were able to complete the task with at least some success. None of the apes were successful, however, even after five demonstrations.

Researchers say this and other tests demonstrate the human ability to intentionally repeat a sequence of specific actions, whereas apes are simply “focused on the outcome, rather than the process,” therefore they are limited to only the solutions that they happen to come across. Other scientists point out that humans more readily imitate the exact body motions and actions of tool-use, giving them another advantage as they learn.

Children also seem more willing than apes to alter their problem-solving approaches to try to improve. In one test, chimps were taught how to get honey out of a box by inserting a stick through a hole. While the chimps learned this method easily, they were unable to learn a more advanced method that opened the box up entirely. Human children, on the other hand, had no problem with the second technique. The conclusion researchers came to on this test is especially telling. According to them, the apes simply “didn’t show any kind of cumulative cultural evolution.”

To the evolutionist, this may seem rather perplexing. If man and ape are closely related, then one might expect more adeptness in apes’ problem-solving techniques. Rather, while apes are skilled tool-users, their skills are generally no better than some birds’, dolphins’, and some elephants’ abilities.

As creationists, we know that the anatomical similarities between man and ape are the result not of a common ancestor, but of a common Creator. Furthermore, man was made in God's image (Genesis 1:26–27). The distinctly human ability to innovate is a reflection of God’s own creativity.

4. National Geographic News: “Giant Toucan Bills Help Birds Keep Their Cool”

The brilliantly colored bills of toucans aren’t just eye candy. Rather, they play an essential role in helping the birds control their temperature, scientists report.

The flamboyant toucan is one of the most instantly recognizable birds in the world, and that’s in no small part due to its seemingly oversized, brightly colored bill. Ranging from hues of orange to greens and blues, the toucan bill’s colors were once thought to attract mates or warn away predators, while the large size was thought to be used as a weapon or as a fruit peeler.

A team led by Glenn Tattersall of Brock University in Canada had an alternative hunch, however: what if the toucan’s bill is used for heat regulation? The team believed that as a “large uninsulated appendage” with a network of blood vessels, the bill could help toucans rapidly dissipate excess heat. (Toucans call the warm tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas home.)

To test their hypothesis, the team used infrared cameras to photograph captive toucans. When it was hot, the pictures showed that the toucans’ bills were radiating heat from the warm blood circulating inside. When it was cooler, the pictures showed no heat radiation and virtually no blood flow to the bill.

While the research doesn’t rule out the possibility that toucans use their bills for other purposes, it does support the team’s hypothesis about heat release. The team also believes other birds, such as ducks and geese, use the same technique (albeit to a lesser extent).

The study also adds to the idea that some dinosaurs shed excess heat in the same way. Stegosauruses, in particular, are known for the large plates that ran along their spine and may have functioned similarly to the toucan’s bill, though it is nearly impossible to test the idea.

A toucan’s bill is a marvelous sight, and now we know at least one of its fascinating functions—another testimony to the ingenuity and artistry of the Designer.

For more information:

5. Time: “50 Authentic American Experiences 2009: Kentucky”

Love us or hate us, the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum continues to attract media attention, popular fascination, and widespread misperception.

Time magazine is taking its annual, state-by-state look at “authentic American experiences,” and we’re pleased to report that our Creation Museum made the list as Kentucky’s representative (though the museum is located just a few miles from both Indiana and Ohio as well).

The brief summary thankfully gets the facts straight, albeit with two slight digs (though we expect as much or more usually). First, there’s the reference to the Creation Museum as “almost a contradiction in terms.” At least they said almost; still, we must point out that ours is a top-quality museum by any dictionary definition of the word. We also think of the Creation Museum as first and foremost a museum of history, though it addresses scientific issues throughout (by necessity, since much of the history concerns the origin and development of life, the earth, etc.).

As for the second dig, our museum is called a “temple to a particularly narrow interpretation of the Bible.” We beg to differ (one of the points we make in the museum); rather, our plain-reading, uncompromised interpretation of Scripture is the same that the vast majority of church fathers and historical Christians accepted, up through much of the nineteenth century; it is also what Jesus taught. Of course, for all we know the Time writer may consider a literal Resurrection to be a “narrow interpretation” as well.

Nonetheless, the blurb labels the museum “sparkling new” and—while noting that “plenty of people dismiss its contents as bunk”—ultimately concludes, “You'll just have to judge for yourself.” Fair enough; we will accept the publicity (and the link to our recently redesigned Creation Museum website) and trust God to continue to send us visitors—more than 800,000 so far, in just over two years since the grand opening, praise God.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Scientists have devised a new technique for introducing modifications in microbial genomes. Of course, any “evolution” that results will be because of intelligent design.
  • One fascinating story this week may offer a glimpse into pre-Curse animal behavior: Monkey Herds Goats; Farmer Approves.
  • More evidence that a T. rex bone does indeed contain the remains of protein—another confirmation of what we reported in May.
  • Sad as it is, we can’t say we’re shocked that a Bible was defaced in a gallery at the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art where visitors were invited to write their thoughts in the Bible itself.
  • BBC News reports on a beetle that glows green under light polarized a certain way. The beetle has cells that are “almost identical to hi-tech liquid crystals.” How’s that for a brilliant design?
  • As humans, we swing our arms when we walk. Does that waste energy, and hence is it an “evolutionary relic” from before our ancestors stood up straight? On the contrary, a new study shows arm-swinging actually conserves energy—so much for that vestigial theory.
  • Genetic evidence indicates that Australian Aborigines are related to Indian populations, suggesting one “Southern Route” of migration for people groups after the dispersion at Babel.

For more information: Get Answers

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