1. BBC News: “‘Life Chemical’ Detected in Comet

Astronomers have once again discovered a “building block” of life in outer space.

Despite initial skepticism, NASA experts now believe comet 81P/Wild-2 harbors the amino acid glycine, an important component of protein (like other amino acids). The initial discovery was made when NASA’s Stardust probe captured material ejected by the comet in 2004.

Naturally, the discovery has fueled speculation that life on earth began after a cometary collision. Carl Pilcher, head of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said, “The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare.”

Pardon us, but (as usual) we’d like to shower some rain on evolutionists’ parade:

  • NASA said the Stardust investigating team took a while to convince itself that the glycine signature was “genuine and not just earthly contamination,” BBC News reports. Though the glycine is of genuine extraterrestrial origin in this case, contamination is always a worry with hyped “life from outer space” and similar claims.
  • Regardless of whether the scientists are correct that the glycine is not due to contamination, the amino acid has been found in space before—on meteorites. What we’ve learned is that space contains a range of relatively simple molecules in addition to raw elements.
  • Despite Pilcher’s comment that “life in the universe may be common rather than rare,” we note that evolutionists should actually be puzzled—with billions of years and billions of planets (and all the hype over “earth-like” planets), where is everybody?
  • Although amino acids are certainly crucial to life, they fall in the category of “necessary but not sufficient.” Simply because amino acids exist somewhere does not mean they can piece themselves into a life-form. That has been the perennial challenge creationists present to evolutionists—not that there aren’t any natural (including extraterrestrial) sources of such molecules.

One of the most important things to remember is that an amino acid, while a building block of life, is more like a building block of a building block of a building block of life. Metals, too, exist independently in nature, but we do not expect sophisticated machinery to exist independent of a designer. Likewise, discoveries of amino acids in space merely bring us back to the question of how such chemicals could have self-organized into life.

2. BBC News: “Ink Found in Jurassic-Era Squid

Scientists cannot only write about amazing fossil discoveries; now, they can write with one!

Paleontologists led by Phil Wilby of the British Geological Survey encountered an unexpected fossil find in Wiltshire recently: a remarkably well-preserved squid ink sac. The fossil was discovered in a site long known for housing many fossils of other soft-bodied organisms.

“It is difficult to imagine how you can have something as soft and sloppy as an ink sac . . . inside a rock that is 150 million years old”

Phil Wilby, British Geological Survey

What is startling is that the ink sac was intact and filled with ink. And although the ink had solidified, it was found to be essentially the same chemical structure as other squid ink, was re-liquefied with a chemical solution, and was then used to sketch a picture of the creature along with its Latin name. (See a photograph of the sketch on the Daily Mail website.) Yet based on the rock layers, the creature’s age is said to be some 150 million years old!

“It is difficult to imagine how you can have something as soft and sloppy as an ink sac fossilized in three dimension[s], still black, and inside a rock that is 150 million years old,” conceded Wilby. The Daily Mail report on the find adds that “the odds of finding something as delicate as a squid’s ink sac intact after so long are put at a billion to one.”

The entire discovery is a resounding confirmation of the creation model of paleontology, for several reasons:

  • Remarkable preservation—The fossil intactness of the soft-bodied organism would have required rapid burial, such as by catastrophic process. Wilby referenced the Medusa effect, wherein an organism is “turned to stone soon after death.” Such fossils “can be dissected as if they are living animals—you can see the muscle fibers and cells.”
  • Mass burial—The fossil squid is one of many soft-bodied fossils found at the site, reinforcing the scenario of catastrophic burial (though other paleontologists posit the idea of poisonous algae).
  • Fully developed organism—Although the fossil is thought to be from the extinct, squid-like creature Belemnotheutis antiquus, the important point is that the fossil, like nearly all others, is easily identifiable as from a fully developed member of one of the created kinds—not a transitional form.

Though the fossil site has been known about since the nineteenth century, its exact location was lost until Wilby’s team rediscovered it. So perhaps the site will yield more fossil surprises!

3. ScienceNOW: “A Pterosaur Comes In for a Landing

It’s “Pterosaur Beach,” the fossil imprint of a landing strip where a pterosaur once touched down.

Said to be from 150 million years ago, the fossil imprint includes many pterosaur footprints, but one in particular stands out. Unlike the rest of the prints, which show the left and right feet walking separately, step-by-step, one set of prints shows the left and right foot next to one another. Additionally, the toe prints are larger, as if the toes were dragged forward.

To University of California–Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian, that all adds up to a pterosaur landing. Padian believes the prints indicate the initial touchdown of the creature, followed by a second set of prints as it hopped to a stop, then lowered itself to all fours and walked off. And the feet-in-unison approach to landing is the same as that of the merganser duck, suggesting pterosaurs were able to stall their flight as they landed—a mark of “extremely capable fliers,” ScienceNOW reports.

If Padian’s interpretation is correct, it would indicate that God indeed made pterosaurs to be skilled flyers—designed right for their purpose. However, some scientists don’t agree with the landing-pterosaur idea. “Personally, I’d love them to be landing marks,” admitted University of Leicester paleontologist David Unwin. “But I don’t think you can rule out they’re swimming marks,” made as a pterosaur planted its feet upon reaching shore. We should always remember that any interpretation of fossil footprints requires one to speculate about the exact nature of the creature that made the prints. (See the actual prints that Padian interpreted.)

For more information:

4. A Trio of Speciation Reminders

The news this week presented three interesting stories that reinforce the creationist understanding of created kinds, speciation, and “evolution.”

Toronto Star: “Meet the Coywolf

Perhaps you’ve heard of zonkeys, zorses (a.k.a. zebrulas), ligers, wholphins, and other hybrid animals—but what about the coywolf? As can be guessed from its name, the coywolf is a hybrid between a coyote and a wolf, and they’re becoming more common in Ontario.

According to Trent University geneticist Bradley White, who has studied the hybrids for 12 years, the coywolf has a dangerous combination of “the wolf characteristics of pack hunting and aggression and the coyote characteristics of lack of fear of human-developed areas.” White believes the coywolf’s origin traces back to the 1920s.

As creationists would expect, geneticist Paul Wilson notes that some coywolves are more coyote-like, whereas others are distinctly more wolf-like. In other words, there is a continuum between wolf and coyote. Creationists can understand this continuum as a microcosm of the original canine created kind, which likely included wolves, coyotes, dingoes, some foxes, and ordinary dogs. Each has since become further separated as genetic information is lost within populations; nonetheless, hybrids remind us of their common origin. Yet many of their common characteristics are unique, reminding us that they did not evolve from a non-canid organism.

Still, White utters an oft-heard phrase in response to the hybridization: “evolution in action.”

Science News: “Rapid Evolution May Be Reshaping Forest Birds’ Wings

A study of multiple bird species in Canada and the United States revealed subtle differences in bird wings that depend on the forestation of birds’ habitat. Researchers already knew that more forested areas were home to more birds with rounder wing tips, improving maneuverability around branches. Less forested areas, on the other hand, house birds with more pointed wing tips, which allows more efficient, sustained flight.

Given this, André Desrochers of Laval University examined changes in bird wing tips across the past century by measuring historical specimens. He then cross-referenced the changes with known patterns of human-caused deforestation and reforestation. Unsurprisingly, birds from areas that had undergone deforestation grew longer and sharper wing tips, while the wing tips of birds in reforested areas became shorter and rounder.

The report notes that “as bird species face new challenges, they respond to the extent they can.” This comports with the creationist view: God included a range of genetic information and adaptability in organisms to allow them to live properly in a range of habitats.

The scientists aren’t certain how significant a role genes play in the wing tip changes. Still, Cornell University ornithologist David Winkler noted, “It’s surprising that there’s so much change so fast,” and Desrochers calls “rapid evolution” the most direct explanation. The speed of the changes indicates how the created kinds could have speciated rapidly after the Flood. Centuries of accumulated changes between some populations from the same created kinds resulted in sexual incompatibility. However, in other kinds (such as canids; see above), populations retain the ability even if interbreeding is uncommon.

ScienceDaily: “Speciation through Genome Duplication More Common in Plant Evolution than Previously Thought

A new study shows that polyploidy—having an extra set of certain chromosomes—plays a more important role in plant speciation than scientists had thought. Rather than three or four percent, the study indicates that fifteen percent of flowering plants and almost a third of fern species “are directly derived from polyploidy,” explained University of Muenster evolutionary biologist Troy Wood. Polyploidy can lead to reproductive isolation, new morphology, and characteristic traits, so is considered at least a potential mechanism for speciation, as another news article explained.

While polyploidy in vertebrates is usually fatal, for plants polyploidy seems to have a generally neutral effect. Nonetheless, the study is a reminder that genetic mistakes only rarely have beneficial effects, instead usually having no effect or negative effects. And when they do result in beneficial differences, it is only because the genetic mistake “breaks” some mechanism, giving the organism a contextual advantage. Speciation due to genetic mistakes—for better or worse—may explain some small portion of the diversity on the planet. But those genetic mistakes cannot account for the origin of all of earth’s species, as evolutionists suggest.

5. National Geographic News: “Dark Energy’s Demise? New Theory Doesn’t Use the Force

Though once a high-flying idea, the notion of dark energy has received another devastating blow from two mathematicians.

Dark energy was originally postulated to help fudge the numbers, in a sense: the universe was moving apart faster than astronomers had predicted, and dark energy was inserted as a factor to explain the mystery. Nonetheless, the inability to detect dark energy has meant a steady controversy among astrophysicists and mathematicians over what it is and whether it exists.

The mathematicians have solved equations matching up with a recently posited counter to the dark energy explanation: that, instead, we live in an unusual, low-density region of space that distorts our perspective of the rest of the universe. (We previously covered the debate—and the idea that the mathematicians are advancing—on May 17, October 4, and December 13 of last year.)

“If correct, these solutions can account for the anomalous accelerated expansion of galaxies without dark energy," said one of the mathematicians, the University of California–Davis’s Blake Temple. (His colleague is Joel Smoller of the University of Michigan.)

But there’s one major problem that troubles many astronomers with Temple and Smoller’s solution: it would imply that our solar system and the Milky Way Galaxy are in a unique part of the universe, caught in a ripple. That idea would violate the Copernican principle, widely held by big bang cosmologists, which essentially states that our solar system (and galaxy) cannot be in a central or otherwise privileged position within the universe. After all, such a position would not make sense given only the big bang and random chance—why us? Alexey Vikhlinin of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics voices the point: “You have to wonder why we are in the middle of this [ripple]? Why not somebody else?”

We can’t help but think that sounds like secular scientists are saying, “We’re not special, no matter what the evidence indicates.” That said, even the mathematicians challenging dark energy are working within the big bang framework; the entire debate is intimately wrapped up in an understanding of astrophysics based on the big bang.

In that sense, we have no specific stake in who wins the debate over dark energy’s existence, although we appreciate findings that challenge the Copernican principle. Our position, rooted in Genesis, is in part reflected by even the many non-creationists who dismiss the big bang model. As stated in an open letter, a group of such thinkers stated, “[T]he big bang theory can boast of no quantitative predictions that have subsequently been validated by observation.” The big bang is not a good scientific model, but rather an unprovable historical speculation layered with rescuing devices when it doesn’t match the evidence. As for the fate of dark energy, we will have to wait and see.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • A USA Today article explains how a flash flood last year (which we reported on in August) changed the landscape in Havasu Canyon, a side canyon to the Grand Canyon (though the report mistakenly implies Grand Canyon itself was affected). The flooding created “a new landmark . . . known variously as Rock Falls, Emerald Falls, or Unnamed Falls.” One long-time visitor said of the area, “It’s way different now.” By the way, Answers in Genesis has helped run fascinating, informative, devotional, and adventure-filled Grand Canyon rafting trips for years—and you can sign up for next year’s now!
  • In its latest issue, New Scientist reminds us of some of the many things evolutionists have trouble explaining, such as true altruism and art. The magazine also errs in its discussion of superstition, classifying religion as superstitious behavior even though studies have shown religious individuals to be less likely to believe in superstitions (reported last September and last December). However, we must recommend (for philosophically minded readers, at least) an interesting piece on miracles that doesn’t fall in line with the usual so-called “scientific” (i.e., naturalistic) dogma.
  • Agence France-Presse reports that IBM and Caltech engineers are trying to replicate biology—specifically, DNA—to produce next-generation microchips. It’s another example of human designers implicitly giving credit to the Master Designer.
  • “The compilers of Genesis write that as soon as Adam and Eve realized they were naked, they sewed themselves aprons made of leaves from the fig tree, and that the Creator himself made them more durable skin coats before evicting them. But if Dr. Rogers and Dr. Stoneking are correct, humans were naked for a million years before they noticed their state of undress and called for the tailor.” Thus, a New York Times article prompts the troubling question, who is more trustworthy and knowledgeable: God or Drs. Rogers and Stoneking? The entire article, unsurprisingly, is based on the premise that differences between creatures (including humans) may only have evolutionary explanations.
  • World magazine reviews a new book on Genesis 1 that introduces “a false contrast between material and functional” to try to reconcile Scripture with old-age ideas. In that regard, the review is exactly right; however, the reviewer also notes, “Genesis 1 does not offer a description in modern scientific jargon [and] has a different focus from modern scientific accounts about past ages.” True; but if the reviewer is trying to imply that Genesis 1 is therefore not fully correct in the science it implies, we would counter that none of the miracles recounted in Scripture—including the Resurrection—are documented with modern scientific jargon.
  • The “unprecedented” speed of a fast-melting glacier has scientists worried about sea level rise. The speed of the melting suggests the speed at which the freezing could have occurred—a reminder that the post-Flood Ice Age could have begun rapidly.
  • Is human social interaction “rooted in . . . evolutionarily ancient processes”? That’s what one scientist speculates after learning that capuchin monkeys give more attention to humans who mimic their behavior. Why can’t such common tendencies toward affection and attention in many animals instead be a reminder that we all share a common Creator?
  • While we don’t agree with the dating schema, archaeologists have discovered sophisticated tools that push back the evolutionary date for the technique of heat-treating stone to 70,000 years ago or more. While it’s more evidence that our ancestors were intelligent, the scientists dismiss Neanderthals as not having learned the techniques. Yet just because humans today don’t all work in high-tech factories doesn’t mean that some of us are more highly evolved than others. A similar discovery announced this week concerns the ability of supposed “ancient” humans to hunt as skillfully as (supposedly) later humans.
  • Will proposed giant telescopes actually see into the past? Or, rather, will they simply see light from very far away—light that some interpret (based on uniformitarian assumptions) as having originated long ago?
  • We’ve written about intelligent crows frequently, but the Daily Mail profiles some intelligent pigeons that got their way with a water fountain.

For more information: Get Answers

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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