1. LiveScience: “Mammals Beat Reptiles in Battle of Evolution

“Mammals are special,” declares the leader of a new study on animal success rates. Just what does he mean?

In a competition of evolutionary proportions, a study funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation has measured the biodiversity of species, declaring the more diverse species as “winners” and the less diverse as “losers.”

Led by evolutionary biologist Michael Alfaro of the University of California–Los Angeles, the scientists looked at DNA sequences and fossils from 47 major vertebrate groups, then calculated the “richness” (diversity) of each group. The assumption behind the study is that more diverse species have evolved more, diversifying to fit varying environments, while the “losers” have evolved, and thus diversified, less.

The winners of the diversity game include most mammals, most birds, and some fish. Crocodilians, on the other hand, ended up at the bottom of the heap, along with the lizard-like tuatara.

For the evolutionists, that’s a big surprise—in fact, the opposite of what one might initially suspect based on the evolutionary version of life’s history. After all, reptiles have had (supposedly) hundreds of millions of years to evolve and diversify, while mammals are said to be relative newcomers. Based on that old-earth model, Alfaro’s team claims that one group of mammals has diversified seven times faster than the scientists would have expected, while crocodiles and alligators have diversified 1,000 times more slowly than expected.

Similarly, modern birds have diversified nine times faster than expected; but the reptilian tuatara has yielded only two species “in the same period of time that produced more than 8,000 species of snakes and lizards,” Alfaro said. All of this is an evolutionary enigma, as Alfaro explained:

The timing of the rate increases does not correspond to the appearance of key characteristics that have been invoked to explain the evolutionary success of these groups, such as hair on mammals or mammals’ well-coordinated chewing ability or feathers on birds. Our results suggest that something more recent is the cause of the biodiversity. It may be that something more subtle explains the evolutionary success of mammals, birds and fish. We need to look for new explanations.

Here’s one alternative explanation, though we doubt Alfaro has considered it. What if diversity is not, on the whole, an indicator of evolutionary success or time on the planet, but rather a factor of the created kinds God originally put on earth? That’s not to say that some kinds haven’t speciated more than other kinds; thus, there are some kinds that have been more “successful” than others.

In fact, if evolution were based on falsifiable hypotheses, this study would cast serious doubt on the evolution model. The longer a species has been around, the more diverse it should have become, based on average mutation rates and the like. But when scientists find that that isn’t the case, evolution is re-interpreted—and “new explanations” are sought—to make the facts fit evolutionary theory.

Additionally, we wonder if the low diversity of crocodilians and the tuatara may help explain why dinosaurs disappeared from the earth (as far as we know) some time after the Flood. While the fossil record shows a range of dinosaur types, it is possible that the dinosaur kinds on the Ark had poorer genetic diversity than, e.g., the mammal kinds on the Ark. Poorer genetic diversity could have restricted their ability to adapt to changing environments, and thus could have hastened their extinction.

While the complete history of life on earth is largely speculative (for both the creationist and the evolutionist), this latest study clearly contradicts evolutionary explanations, yet can easily be reconciled with the creation model of biology.

[One reader suggested an additional explanation of interest: the greater biological diversity of mammals and birds, and the lesser biological diversity of reptiles, could be due to the number of representatives of each kind Noah took on board the Ark. “You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 7:2–3)]

2. BBC News: “Domestic Dog Origins Challenged

If the idea behind item #1 (above) is correct, perhaps the domestic dog would be the biggest “winner” of all.

New research by an international group of researchers has fueled the debate over where the domestic dog originated: Africa or East Asia? At the center of the debate is the question of whether African or East Asian dog populations have more genetic diversity, based on the idea that earlier domestication would result in more genetic diversity today.

The analysis, led by scientist Adam Boyko of Cornell University, began with a look at the DNA from 318 village dogs from Egypt, Uganda, and Namibia. The team believed that village dogs, which are more diverse than bred dogs, might be a better clue as to where dogs were first domesticated.

In their comparison of dog types considered African (such as the Saluki) to non-African dogs, the team learned that genetic diversity in African village dogs was just as high as in East Asian dogs, calling into question previous conclusions. “I think it means that the conclusion that was drawn before might have been premature. It’s a consequence of having a lot of street dogs from East Asia that were sampled, compared to elsewhere. The reason that East Asia looked more diverse than elsewhere was not because East Asia as a continent had more diverse dogs than elsewhere but because non breed street and village dogs are more diverse than breed dogs.”

All of the dogs sampled have gray wolf DNA, however, affirming the widely held belief (by evolutionists and creationists) that dogs and wolves share a common ancestor (which creationists would consider the original dog kind from Genesis 1).

Boyko also told the BBC that the study doesn’t show that dogs were first domesticated in Africa; it only disputes the evidence supporting an East Asian origin. Our guess is that many people groups domesticated canine breeds during and after the dispersion at Babel (as perhaps did their ancestors before the Flood), with dogs progressively becoming “man’s best friend” through natural and artificial selection.

3. National Geographic News: “Pterosaur’s Wing, ‘Hairs’ Unlike Any Living Animals

What were pterosaurs really like? An uncertain topic grows all the more perplexing after a new look at an old fossil.

Paleontologists took a new look at Jeholopterus ninchengensis, a fossilized pterosaur discovered in Mongolia in 2000 along with crustacean fossils and ash. Facilitating the research is the fossil’s “remarkably well-preserved membranes.”

And that brings us to our first point of interest: “It must have been rapidly buried after it died, perhaps by a river or maybe inside a lake[,] otherwise its soft tissue would have rotted away quickly and not been preserved,” explained study coauthor Alexander Kellner of Brazil’s National Museum. The evidence of rapid watery burial and volcanic activity all comports well with the Flood of Noah’s day and the corresponding volcanism.

As for the fossil itself, the duck-sized pterosaur has a membrane with a layer of structural fibers called actinofibrils, which are unique to pterosaurs. UV light revealed that the membrane had three or more layers of actinofibrils running in a crisscross pattern—a unique arrangement unlike any living animal.

The researchers have only unanswered questions about the makeup of the fibers and their purpose, though, as Kellner asked: “Were they muscle? Collagen? Keratin? Stiff? Elastic?” Regarding their purpose, Kellner suggested the fibers may have “made it easier to make subtle adjustments of the wing membrane when flying, perhaps giving them better flight capability,” or may have helped in the regulation of body temperature. The fibers are “much more complex than we thought,” Kellner concluded.

The new J. ninchengensis research feeds into other unanswered questions about the true nature of extinct reptiles. Some have suggested such fibers are not fibers at all, but rather the remains of tissue decay during fossilization. Likewise, some dinosaur fossils have given rise to speculation about “feathered dinosaurs,” which in turn has fed the notion that some dinosaurs evolved into birds. (National Geographic News even offers a “related link” to an older news report, “Feathered” Dinosaur Was Bald, Not Bird Ancestor, Controversial Study Says.)

The Bible nowhere precludes the possibility of dinosaurs or pterosaurs with feathers, and for that reason, we cannot be dogmatic on the issue. Still, most of us find the evidence for feathered dinosaurs quite lacking and driven by evolutionary needs (i.e., an origin for birds) rather than the raw facts. J. ninchengensis shows that God uniquely designed pterosaurs for their functions (such as flying) and their environment.

4. PhysOrg: “Crows Can Use ‘Up to Three Tools’

They’re the incredibly intelligent, tool-wielding animals we’ve covered frequently in the past. No, not chimps; we’re talking about crows once again.

Crow intelligence has become one of our favorite pet topics in News to Note (see previous coverage, for example, from May). The otherwise pesky birds seem to have a natural knack at figuring out puzzles and using tools to their advantage, exceeding even the skill of apes at times.

Experiments on crows performed at Oxford University reinforce our view. Seven New Caledonian crows were presented with a series of tests that forced them to not only use tools, but to use up to three different tools in a specific sequence in order to obtain food. What’s more amazing is that of the seven crows, four of them used tools in a sequence successfully from their very first attempt.

In the most challenging experiment, the crows were faced with food that was deep inside a tube—too far to reach without tools. However, the tool long enough to retrieve the food was out of reach itself, as was the tool required to retrieve that tool. Thus, the birds had to begin with the available shortest tool and use it to retrieve the middle-length tool; then use the middle-length tool to retrieve the longest tool; and finally use the longest tool to extract the food.

What set this study apart from previous experiments on crows and apes is that the crows were not trained for sequential tool use but rather determined what to do on their own. The researchers also concluded that the crows did not switch tools at random; they generally switched from shorter to longer tools. Nonetheless, the scientists were cautious not to overstate how much humans know of crows’ true intelligence. They noted that the tool use does not necessarily imply that the crows have reasoning or planning abilities, nor would it have required “high-level mental faculties.”

The Times reports another recent examination of crow intelligence. Scientists at Cambridge University tested the ability of rooks (a type of crow) to raise the water level in a tube by dropping stones into the water. Floating on the water was a treat available only if the water level was raised. Not only did the rooks successfully complete the test, but the Daily Mail reports that, when presented with stones of different sizes, the rooks quickly learned to use the larger stones first to raise the water level more quickly.

For creationists, the news reminds us both that God made a broad range of very capable, intelligent animals (not just apes!) and also that man is nevertheless uniquely created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).

For more information:

5. Metro: “Dr. Andrew Parker: The Bible Got Everything Right

In one of the strangest news stories we’ve examined to date, an Oxford biologist declares that Genesis is incredibly accurate; then says “creationism is totally unfounded”; then admits “the first page of the Bible . . . doesn’t spell out any of the science in detail.”

On the surface, it sounds exciting: Oxford University biologist Andrew Parker has authored The Genesis Enigma: Why The Bible Is Scientifically Accurate, which “claims the story of Genesis matches the history of the universe so accurately it could only have been written with divine intervention,” Metro reports. Yet after digging only a little deeper, Parker’s ideas seem worthless.

In an interview with Metro, Parker explained his basic idea: “Not only is the sequence of events in Genesis scientifically correct but some of the events themselves are really quite precise, which would have been impossible for a human to know at that time. You have to conclude that either the author made extremely lucky guesses or something strange was going on: divine inspiration.”

Yet Parker’s version of Genesis reads quite differently than ours; no surprise, since he told Metro, “Creationism is totally unfounded. It is as dangerous as fundamentalism in other religions.” (Though we’re at a loss to recall the last act of young-earth creation terrorism.)

But we have pointed out frequently in the past, the order of events of evolutionary history are at odds with the order of events given by Genesis at several points. For example, Genesis very explicitly claims that the earth existed before the sun and stars, and that flying creatures (birds, bats, pterosaurs, etc.) existed before land animals. Unsurprisingly, Parker has to twist the text to get it to fit his ideas. For instance, he claims God’s command “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens” actually refers to the evolution of the eye. It’s eisegesis in the extreme; yet the Mail reported last month that, according to Parker, “the ancient Hebrew writers of the Book of Genesis knew all about evolution—3,000 years before Darwin.” Mail reporter Christopher Hart writes:

On the third day, we are told: “God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.’” Now factually speaking, grass didn’t evolve until much later. . . . [S]ince grass did not in fact evolve until much later, a sternly literal-minded scientist would declare the Bible wrong . . . .

But wait a minute, says Parker. If you take “grass, herb, and tree” to mean photosynthesizing life in general, then this is, once again, spot on. The very life forms on earth were single-celled bacteria, but the first truly viable bacteria were the “cyanobacteria”—those that had learned to photosynthesize. As a result, they began to expire oxygen, creating an atmosphere that could go on to support more and more life. They were the key to life on earth.

Parker then adds in a bit of “chronological snobbery” to try to further justify his ideas, telling the Mail, “The ancient Israelites would have been oblivious to any single-celled life form, let alone cyanobacteria.” Likewise, Metro asks Parker, “In Genesis, God creates the earth in six days, makes man out of dust and there’s no mention of the Big Bang. If it was written with God’s help, why is so much wrong [from an evolutionary standpoint]?” But Parker answers, “It’s the authors adding their artistic interpretation, shoehorning the facts into the type of story people would be able to understand.”

But the Metro interview easily reveals a chink in Parker’s model, asking him: “You say the second ‘Let there be light[s] . . .’ refers to the evolution of the eye but you edited out the rest of the line, which clearly refers to the sun, moon and stars. There’s no mention in Genesis of the evolution of the eye.” Parker answered, “Um, OK. I’ll probably have a look at this in more detail again. The first page of the Bible doesn’t spell out the eye but it doesn’t spell out any of the science in detail.”

In reality, Parker is so loose with his interpretation—and so readily reads into Genesis 1 what already believes (e.g., millions of years, the big bang, the evolution of the eye, cyanobacteria)—that we may as well read in cryonics into the Resurrection account. Furthermore, Parker’s interpretation ignores its fundamental problem of death before sin.

Also frustrating is Hart, who declares, “There is no doubt that literal-minded creationists do a disservice to the triumphant achievements of modern science, and to the beauty and poetry of the Bible. Evolution is taking place around us all the time. It’s why the MRSA superbug has become so dangerously immune to antibiotics, why the race is on to beat the swine flu virus.” Not only is it clear that Hart does not know what creationists actually believe or argue; he also begs his own question, since we do not agree that Genesis 1 is (figurative) poetry.

Our guess is that Parker’s strange variation on one of the more popular creation compromises will never make it out of the dustbin of history. Genesis needs no reinterpretation to “fit” science because true science confirms Genesis!

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Our condolences and prayers go out to the families and survivors of the fitness center shooting in Pennsylvania this week. Despite strange religious comments in his blog, the killer appears to have had a very un-Christian perspective on many issues.
  • A tragic account of persecution of Christians in Pakistan is just one reminder of ongoing persecution of our brethren abroad who need our prayers.
  • The incredible design of adhesive gecko feet is activated by gravity, researchers have discovered. The scientists hope the find will help engineers create better adhesive systems.
  • Methane on Mars continues to fuel hopes for life, but the possibility of geological origins seems much more reasonable if one removes evolutionary speculation.
  • An interesting “Science Friday” podcast episode on paleoart covers ground from the exacting work paleoartists do to early misrepresentations of Neanderthals to brief (and surprisingly moderate!) comments about our Creation Museum. By the way, the Creation Museum features a saddle on a triceratops (mentioned in the show) as a photo opportunity and child’s play spot separate from our science exhibits. Although we do believe dinosaurs and humans coexisted, there is no evidence that humans ever rode dinosaurs (besides the mysterious and controversial Ica stones, as one reader points out).

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