1. PhysOrg: “Bipedal Humans Came Down from the Trees . . .

“This model should cause everyone to re-evaluate what they’ve said before”—the words of a Duke University professor whose research turns the origins of bipedal walking on its head.

That professor, evolutionary anthropologist Daniel Schmitt, collaborated with postdoctoral researcher Tracy Kivell in an examination of the two dominant, opposed models of how human bipedalism (walking upright on two feet) supposedly evolved. One model considers ground-dwelling apes (specifically, gorillas) to have been at the origin of bipedalism. The other model suggests the ambulation of tree-climbing apes (specifically, chimps) gave rise to upright walking.

The evidence at the middle of the debate are the wrist and hand bones of African apes. Each camp believes the bones of their group of apes match up better with humans’, proving an evolutionary connection.

In their research, Kivell and Schmitt investigated the wrist bones of nearly 150 chimps (including bonobos) and compared the bones with those of 91 gorillas. They determined that two important skeletal features associated with knuckle-walking were found in approximately 90 percent of chimps but in only 6 percent of gorillas. Those features differentiate the two groups because of the way each knuckle-walks. Chimps keep their wrists in a more flexible, bent position, causing greater skeletal stress that necessitates the features. This flexibility is also more conducive to moving along tree limbs. Gorillas, by contrast, keep their wrists straight, causing them to walk more similarly to quadrupeds, such as elephants. Such a posture is more efficient for ground movement. Thus, the first conclusion Kivell and Schmitt make is that the two groups evolved their knuckle-walking behavior separately.

But where do humans fit in? The scientists noted that some of the features humans have in common with knuckle-walkers also exist in lemurs, which do not knuckle-walk. And since chimps are—according to some evolutionists—our closest evolutionary relatives, the features previously interpreted as evidence of knuckle walking could actually be evidence of an arboreal lifestyle.

In the paper, Kivell and Schmitt write, “Instead, our data support the opposite notion, that features of the hand and wrist found in the human fossil record that have traditionally been treated as indicators of knuckle-walking behavior in general are in fact evidence of arboreality.” Rather than a knuckle-walking phase, they believe a human ancestor went straight from swinging in the trees to walking upright on the ground.

Why all the guesswork? Unfortunately for evolutionists, “there are no fossils from the time of this transition,” a news release emphasizes, and “none of the later fossils considered to be on the direct human line were knuckle-walkers.” So what can we conclude?

  • As with so many studies of evolutionary anthropology, this research is predicated on the presupposition that anatomical similarities can show evolutionary relationships. Creationists understand similarities between kinds as reflective of one Designer re-using designs in animals designed for similar habitats.
  • Creationists should not be surprised that there are no fossils documenting the transition to bipedalism, or that human fossils show no legacy of knuckle-walking (except in some evolutionists’ imaginations). In fact, this study leaves us with the fanciful idea of tree-dwelling apes swinging down and suddenly walking upright on the ground; the idea is deemed “scientific” only because the researchers have disproved the alternative—thus it becomes evolutionarily necessary.
  • Also of note is that the anatomical features the scientists examined weren’t present in all or none of each ape type, but rather fractions of each. Thus, even with present-day members of created kinds, there can be a range and many skeletal anomalies. Creationists should remember this when it comes to interpreting fossils, many of which are closely similar to modern humans or closely similar to modern apes with only minor distinctions.

2. ScienceNOW: “Latest Case for Martian Life May Just Be Hot Air

The fuss over martian methane—which had fueled hopes for life on the Red Planet—may be misplaced, according to a new study.

We first covered the excitement over the detection of methane in January, then followed up briefly last week. Although methane can have geological origins, it is more commonly produced biologically (on earth, anyway)—and thus the methane was considered a possible sign of martian life. But as ScienceNOW reports, “Just as researchers were once again getting their hopes up, a new study undercuts the prospects for martian life.”

Chemists Franck Lefàvre and François Forget of Pierre and Marie Curie University, reporting in the journal Nature, reveal an interesting “problem” with the methane discovery: the methane is concentrated in only one part of Mars’s atmosphere. No matter whether the origin of the methane is biological or geological, it should be spread throughout the atmosphere. Lefàvre and Forget concluded that there must be a chemical reaction occurring in the martian atmosphere that is destroying the methane.

At first, that may seem irrelevant to the question of life on Mars. However, the scientists point out that any chemical reaction destroying methane would necessarily doom life, because methane is comprised of the same types of molecules that make up life-forms.

NASA planetary scientist Michael Mischna conceded, “Something is rapidly destroying the methane in the martian atmosphere [and] there’s no way life could survive at or near the surface if destruction occurred so quickly.”

Once again, evolutionists’ high hopes for life on Mars have not been met by the facts. Despite many widely hyped incidents, the lingering speculation that life exists (or existed) on Mars is propped up by nothing but evolutionary presuppositions. And assuming the methane on Mars is of geologic origin, scientists have yet another puzzle to solve about our fascinating neighbor.

3. BBC News: “New Exoplanet Orbits ‘Backwards’

For the first time, astronomers have detected a planet that could be said to “swim against the flow”—orbiting in the opposite direction from the spin of its star.

In our solar system, Earth and the other planets—as well as planetoids and asteroids—orbit the sun in the same direction that the sun spins. In a sense, it’s as if the entire solar system were fixed on one rotating disc, all moving in unison (except that the planets orbit at different speeds). Those who accept stellar evolution (and the big bang) see this behavior as a legacy of each solar system’s origin from a single gas cloud.

As astronomers have begun to detect exoplanets (those that lie outside our own solar system), the direction of orbit of about a dozen has been determined. For all but one, the planets orbit in the same direction as their parent star. But planet WASP-17b is a nonconformist, it seems: the gas giant rotates retrograde (in opposite direction) from its parent star.

One of the scientists, Keele University’s Coel Hellier, noted, “With everything swirling around the same way and the star spinning the same way, you have to do quite a lot to it to make it go in the opposite direction.” In fact, the retrograde orbit would seem to falsify evolutionists’ hypothesis on planetary formation—if it weren’t for the rescuing devices of planetary collisions and near-misses. The astronomers speculate that a close encounter with another planet or a passing star could have reversed the planet’s orbit.

While those possibilities are theoretically plausible, they effectively allow the planetary formation hypothesis to escape scrutiny: any aberrations, however strange, can be chalked up to unobservable collisions and near-collisions. In our own solar system, for example, Venus rotates in exactly the opposite direction as Earth and the other planets. While creationists can understand such uniqueness as the result of design, evolutionists can postulate whatever collisions would be (hypothetically) necessary to create the anomalies. Both worldviews have their interpretations, but some stretch the facts more than others.

4. National Geographic News: “Vestigial Organs Not So Useless After All, Studies Find

Another study reminds us that the idea of “vestigial organs” is, itself, vestigial!

The premise behind the idea of vestigial organs is that our bodies contain “evolutionary leftovers”—once biologically necessary but now unimportant, lingering on only because they don’t outright kill us. The appendix receives the anatomical slur most frequently—despite its documented functions that we are now aware of. Also on the list are tonsils and the spleen.

A new study published recently in the journal Science has revealed an important role played by the spleen, formerly considered vestigial because it can be removed without killing the patient. Scientists had already learned that the spleen plays a role in filtering out old and damaged red blood cells and helping the body fight infections. The recent study shows that the spleen stores a type of white blood cells called monocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system and also help repair damaged tissues. Scientists once thought monocytes were stored only in the blood, but in fact, the spleen stores ten times as many as are in the bloodstream.

In tests on lab mice, the monocytes from the spleen played an important role in helping the mice recover from heart attacks. Study coauthor Filip Swirski of Massachusetts General Hospital explained, “If you’re going to survive a heart attack, your heart has to heal the proper way, and that depends on monocytes.”

Swirski and his colleagues made the discovery by calculating the number of monocytes that accumulated in the heart after an attack, realizing it was far more than the bloodstream harbored. In mice with removed spleens, there a “vastly fewer number” of monocytes accumulated in the heart.

The study is in accord with another made more than twenty years ago of veterans of the Second World War. Those whose spleens had been damaged or removed because of war injuries were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease and pneumonia.

National Geographic News spoke with Jeffrey Laitman, director of anatomy and functional morphology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, about the research. “History is littered with body parts that were called ‘useless’ simply because medical science had yet to understand them,” the report paraphrases. In that vein, we reported on the beneficial functions of the appendix in October 2007 and June 2008.

There are two key problems inherent in labeling any organ vestigial or poorly constructed. First (as Laitman indicates), given our limited knowledge, it is always possible that future studies will reveal the actual purpose of certain organs—such as was the case with the appendix and the spleen. Second, the human biology we study today exists thousands of years after the Curse and has consequently been affected by millennia of mutations and disease in addition to the abuses of the modern lifestyle. How our bodies function today is almost certainly less optimal than how God designed them.

Besides, anyone who laughs that the idea of a Designer by pointing out supposed bad design must wrestle with a more puzzling question: even if some organs function imperfectly, why nearly all put to shame even our most sophisticated technologies?

5. USA Today: “We Believe in Evolution—and God

Two Christian evolutionists send a broadside our way with a USA Today opinion piece this week. But do they bring up anything new?

The authors of the piece are Eastern Nazarene College professor Karl Giberson (whom we wrote about last November) and Point Loma Nazarene University professor Darrel Falk. Both are co-presidents of the new BioLogos Foundation established by Christian evolutionist Francis Collins (see the May 16 edition of News to Note).

The two begin with an unsurprising assertion: “We find no contradiction between the scientific understanding of the world, and the belief that God created that world. And that includes Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.” They add that molecules-to-man evolution “unifies the entire science of biology,” and that “evolution is as well-established within biology as heliocentricity is established within astronomy.” Then they bring out their biggest guns:

The “science” undergirding this “young earth creationism” comes from a narrow, literalistic and relatively recent interpretation of Genesis, the first book in the Bible. This “science” is on display in the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where friendly dinosaurs—one with a saddle!—cavort with humans in the Garden of Eden. . . . Science faculty at schools such as Bryan College in Tennessee and Liberty University in Virginia work on “models” to shoehorn the 15 billion year history of the universe into the past 10,000 years.

And hence the misinformation begins, which we will answer in turn. Here, we wonder if Giberson and Falk dismiss plain readings of other Bible passages as “narrow” and “literalistic” even if those passages, like Genesis 1 show the hallmarks of being plainly worded historical accounts. And the early church fathers’ supposed doubt concerning a literal Genesis has also been dramatically exaggerated (see The Early Church on Creation). Also, as we have explained before, the saddled dinosaur in the Creation Museum is not an exhibit, but rather a fun photo opportunity for young children; it is in the basement, far from the Garden of Eden display. And the authors merely beg the question when they write that our friends at Bryan College, Liberty University, and elsewhere must “shoehorn” old-earth ideas into a young-earth framework.

Challenging accepted ideas is how America churns out Nobel Prize-winning science and patents that will drive tomorrow’s technology. But challenging authority can also undermine this country’s leadership in science, when citizens reject it. . . . [We aim] to counter the voices coming from places such as the website Answers in Genesis, which touts creation scientists, and the Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle, that calls on Christians to essentially choose between science and faith.

First of all, the professors have conflated operational science with origins science—a common problem we point out. Also we have made clear many times that we certainly do not reject science; we just do not believe that everything labeled “science” or that everything believed by scientists actually is good, objective science. Likewise, we regularly emphasize that the supposed dichotomy between religion (or faith) and science is false. The issue is not that we fight the encroachment of science; rather, we believe that one’s starting point is an inherently religious belief that determines how one interprets the results of the scientific method.

Darwin proposed the theory of evolution in 1859 in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. This controversial text presented evidence that present-day life forms have descended from common ancestors via natural selection. Organisms better adapted to their environments had more offspring, and these fitness adaptations accumulated across the millennia. And this is how new species arose.

Natural selection is a readily observed, experimentally verified scientific fact that requires no historical speculation, and as such, our Creation Museum has an exhibit that explains it. We agree that natural selection can lead to new species within a kind as it reduces the genetic information in a population, resulting in sexual incompatibility where there previously was none. But Darwin and those who follow him extrapolate backward from these observations all the way to a single ancestor of all life. That assertion can never be proved right or wrong from fossils or any other present-day scientific study.

We are trained scientists who believe in God, but we also believe that science provides reliable information about nature. We don’t view evolution as sinister and atheistic. We think it is simply God’s way of creating. . . . Evolution is not a chaotic and wasteful process, as the critics charge.

We agree that the scientific method can show certain hypotheses to be more reliable than others through the process of attempted falsification. However, “science” does not provide anything—saying as much is to commit the fallacy of reification. We also would ask if the authors believe in the true, bodily resurrection of Jesus, given that such is as “scientifically” unverifiable as creation. Next, by using the word “sinister,” the authors imply that young-earth creationists are afraid of evolution. Rather, we understand the idea of evolution; it is simply that we don’t believe it is true for biblical and logical reasons. And the authors seem to be deluding themselves by writing that evolution is not “chaotic and wasteful,” given that young-earth creationists believe God created a world of life in one week without any death. The fossil record, however, is a record of death and includes evidence of violence and disease, such as cancer. Why would God call that “very good” if death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) introduced by sin, which could not have occurred before man (Romans 5:12–14)?

We understand science as a gift from God to explore the creation, a companion revelation enriching the understanding of God we get from other sources, such as the Bible. Many do not realize that making the Bible into a textbook of modern science is a recent development. What we learn from science cannot threaten our belief in God as the creator. If God created the universe in a [b]ig [b]ang 15 billion years ago, guided its development with elegant mathematical laws so that eventually there would be big-brained mammals exploring things such as beauty, morality and truth, then let us celebrate that idea, not reject it.

Again, we agree that science can help us explore creation. But the authors’ description of it as a “companion revelation” forces a question: is everything reported in a scientific journal automatically as valid as Scripture? What about when the two come into conflict—such as if an archaeologist alleges that the Bible’s history is inaccurate? Again, the church fathers overwhelmingly believed in a recent creation as the Bible taught. And of course we do not make the Bible a “textbook of modern science,” since it is a book of history. And again, the authors fallaciously reify “science.” What Richard Dawkins believes the scientific method shows certainly does threaten one’s belief in God. Finally, there is the word if: “If God created the universe in a [b]ig [b]ang 15 billion years ago . . . .” The authors seem to misunderstand our perspective entirely, again, falsely implying that our position is due to fear or unwillingness to consider what it would mean to celebrate the big bang, etc.

Sadly, the visibility of Giberson and Falk’s piece will surely misinform many who don’t actually know what we and other young-earth creationists believe. Even while lobbying tired old defenses of theistic evolution, the authors did not answer a single of our substantive problems with compromise (which are documented in the articles linked below). Still, we are thankful for the continued attention on the Creation Museum, which continues to be the best chance many have for beginning to understand the creationist’s perspective—and for meeting the Creator.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Many readers no doubt heard about the atheists who visited the Creation Museum en masse last week, resulting in a news buzz and numerous opinions on the event. Some reports aired strange inaccuracies (e.g., “mankind spread from continent to continent by walking across the floating trunks of trees knocked down during the biblical Flood”). The organizer of the atheist trip praised the museum’s friendly staff. We emphasized that non-disruptive atheists are welcome to return. (By the way, many inaccuracies reported were answered in Ken Ham’s blog.)
  • In other coverage of the Creation Museum, an Answers in Genesis supporter wrote a well-crafted letter admonishing an Ohio newspaper for publishing a shoddy editorial that ridiculed the museum. All supporters are invited to follow suit whenever the circumstances call for it!
  • Do your children know more than you do about science? More than half of the respondents to a UK poll think so, reports BBC News. That may be a bit humorous when it comes to such questions as “Why is the sky blue?” but don’t forget that children expect reasonable answers on origins, too. And if they don’t find them from their parents or Sunday school teachers, they may accept their school science teacher’s answers by default.
  • Researchers have discovered another way (albeit somewhat trivial) in which our Neanderthal kin were similar to ourselves: at least some were able to taste bitter flavors.
  • Despite some misplaced comments attacking creationists, the authors of a Los Angeles Times opinion piece offer an interesting review of a rift within the evolutionary community—and how Richard Dawkins is different than Charles Darwin.
  • More than 350 new species have been discovered in the Himalayas in the past decade, the Associated Press reports, including the miniature muntjac—the world’s smallest deer. Of course, if found in the fossil record, evolutionists might interpret such a small deer as a transitional form between another small mammal type and larger deer. The miniature muntjac reminds us that a great diversity of sizes and variations within a single kind can coexist on the same earth at the same time.
  • It isn’t just crows, dolphins, and elephants who rival primates in surprising levels of intelligence; dogs too (some breeds, anyway) may be able to perform simple arithmetic.

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