A snake with a leg—is it evidence of evolution, creation, both, or neither?
The Telegraph reports this week on a strange sighting in Suining, China: a snake, 16 inches (41 cm) long, that has a leg (complete with claws).
Discoverer Duan Qiongxiu described her encounter: “I woke up and heard a strange scratching sound. I turned on the light and saw this monster working its way along the wall using his claw.” Frightened, she killed the snake with a shoe—but then preserved the oddity in a bottle of alcohol.
The snake is now in the custody of West Normal University in China, where it is scheduled to undergo an autopsy to learn more about the leg.
To some, a snake spontaneously growing a leg (or so it appears) would seem to be out-and-out proof of evolution. After all, if a snake can grow a leg, why couldn’t a fish grow feet, a dinosaur grow feathers, etc.? How could creationists explain the increase in genetic information that a snake leg would require?
But there’s a catch. Both evolutionists and creationists actually believe that snakes weren’t always legless. Evolutionists believe that snakes are the evolutionary descendants of lizards that gradually lost their legs (as we discussed in 2007 and 2008); thus, they view this legged snake as hearkening back to its evolutionary ancestors. As for creationists, we read in Genesis 3:14 that God punished the serpent for deceiving Eve:
So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
While the Bible does not explain the scientific specifics of “on your belly you shall go,” creationists have generally understood this to mean that the original serpentine created kind had legs. Even if God “muted” the genetic information for legs in snakes (so that none could truly walk), a mutation could cause some of the latent genetic information to be expressed in the form of an errant limb.
Furthermore, there are fossil examples of what appear to be legged snakes—see Snakes with legs? A preliminary reply; Does this evolutionary claim have any legs?; and News to Note, April 12, 2008. (Since these fossils would have most likely been formed thousands of years after the events of Genesis 3, it is possible they represent a different, snake-like reptile form—or that they are atavistic legged snakes like the one discovered in China.)
Regardless of the specific history of snakes’ legs, what matters is that a leg on a snake would not be a truly novel genetic feature, since there is evidence that the snake genome once had the information to produce legs. The leglessness of snakes today represents a corruption, loss, or deactivation of that information (at least, the elements coding for a full set of functional limbs). Such is the opposite of the mutation-driven increase in genetic information that molecules-to-man evolution would require. Also, snakes have several uniquely designed features that set them apart from lizards and other reptiles (see To make a snake).
Finally, we should not prematurely discount the possibility that this snake isn’t the bona fide natural curiosity it appears to be. Although we are not aware of a profit motive in this case, fake organisms have come from China before (e.g., Archaeoraptor). Also, bloggers and online commentators have suggested the leg actually belongs to a lizard—the snake’s last meal. (Snakes are known to ingest their prey whole, with their midsections sometimes taking on the shape of their meal.) Whatever the case, we hope the researchers at West Normal University will discover the true origins of this snake leg.
Velociraptor: the fearsome carnivore and . . . tree climber?
According to a group of researchers led by Phil Manning of the University of Manchester, popular images of Velociraptor using its menacing claws to disembowel its prey may be off the mark. In fact, the group revealed in 2005 that the dinosaur’s claws were not sharp enough for such a feat. Instead, Velociraptor likely used the claws to cling to prey while attacking with its teeth.
However, the new wrinkle to this story is that
an analysis of the biomechanics of the hand claw suggests it could have supported the dinosaur’s weight when it was climbing . . . . [It] used its climbing ability to perch in trees and pounce on prey from above, with its claws puncturing the skin so it could cling to its victim’s body while biting and subduing it.
To the researchers, this is further buttressed by the assumption that Microraptor, a supposed ancestor of Velociraptor, had feathered limbs that allowed it to glide down from the trees to attack prey.
There are several points creationists should consider concerning this find:
Dinosaur-to-bird evolution has become so unquestioned that most dinosaur discoveries include some link to bird behavior or characteristics. If it’s not feathers, it’s jumping out of trees. Dinosaurs such as Velociraptor get grafted into the family line of Microraptor simply because the scientists presuppose that birds descended from dinosaurs before they even look at the evidence. Too bad that real science continues to be ambushed by the hype.
Microbial resistance to antibiotics is one of the most commonly claimed evidences for evolution. So will the new “clue” to its workings be evidence for evolution as well?
According to evolutionists—and, frequently, as portrayed in the media—microbes becoming resistant to antibiotics is an example of evolution in action. Creationists counter that such resistance is (whenever observed) either already existent in the bacterial population, or else is the result of a loss or alteration of existing genetic information rather than an increase. (For a primer, see Antibiotic Resistance of Bacteria: An Example of Evolution in Action?)
In a new study, New York University researchers report in Science a correlation between bacterial production of nitric oxide and its resistance to antibiotics. Specifically, bacterial enzymes synthesize the nitric oxide from the amino acid arginine. The nitric oxide then helps alleviate the “oxidative stress” and the toxic compounds that are the weapons of many antibiotics.
In accordance with their discovery, the researchers found that inhibiting nitric oxide production helped the antibiotics do their job—even in less toxic amounts.
The scientists hope that inhibiting the bacterial production of nitric oxide will be a key to overcoming antibiotic resistance. “Here, we have a short cut, where we don’t have to invent new antibiotics,” said study leader Evgeny Nudler. “Instead we can enhance the activity of well-established ones, making them more effective at lower doses.”
Notable is that the bacterial production of nitric oxide seems to be a built-in function of the bacteria to help them survive. In the face of ongoing human administration of antibiotics over the years, the bacteria whose nitric oxide production is superior have been more likely to survive. This is also probably the case in the microcosm of individual patient infections as well. But in none of the cases are the bacteria “evolving” to become something different, or to become more complex. Rather, natural selection is acting on the pre-existing traits in a bacterial population and reducing the diversity of a population that faces antibiotics—so that in the end, only the resistant remain.
Seven years after its discovery, the James ossuary is still stirring up controversy and debate.
In 2002, the religious and archaeological community reverberated with the finding of an Aramaic inscription on a Jewish ossuary (burial box) potentially from the time of Christ: Yaakov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua (James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus). What made this find interesting was the fact that these types of inscriptions rarely contained the name of brothers—unless the brother was particularly noteworthy. Understandably, this caused a great stir in the media.
After an initial round of testing, however, many experts dismissed the engraving as a fraud, claiming that the inscription itself is a forgery added to a genuine ossuary—perhaps even using some of the original letters. The hype died down, the owner of the box was charged with counterfeit, and the ossuary was mostly forgotten.
While the court of public opinion may have dismissed the case, the Jerusalem District Court is still weighing the matter. Expert witnesses have come and gone, questions have been raised and dismissed, and more than 9,000 pages of proceedings have been compiled. The only certainty so far seems to be that everyone involved has an opinion—but few definitive answers.
At issue is the way in which the inscription was tested. The scientific evidence against authenticity is largely based on the oxygen isotopic content of the patina (a thin crust covering the ossuary). If the isotopic values don’t match the expected values found in Israel at the time (determined from cave stalagmites, for example), then the inscription is considered a fraud.
The problem is that no one is completely sure how the patina forms, though the consensus is that it is solid calcium carbonate deposited by rain, groundwater, and perhaps even wind and biological sources. The unknowns of patina formation leave opportunities for the defense team in the trial. In particular, the standard isotopic range for Israel at the time the ossuary would have been inscribed is much in debate because the amount of rainfall during the Roman era may be as much as double what had previously been accepted.
Before we discuss the ossuary, let’s examine the isotopic data. Regular readers to this column will notice immediately a flaw here that is quite common to uniformitarianism (that natural processes operate today as they did in the past). Even if uniformitarians don’t have all the data—or even a good model for how something formed—they extrapolate back from modern rates and data and assume that the past is just like the present. This, for example, is how they find millions of years using radiometric dating. But, as shown with the rainfall data, if the assumptions are wrong, the dating itself is in serious question. (In fact, secular radiometric dating is likely wrong on more than one assumption.)
The authenticity of the ossuary inscription is irrelevant to the Christian faith. If it is real, some Christians may have their faith bolstered, but the truth of Christ’s existence is independent of archaeological finds (even if those finds are a testament to the accuracy of Scripture). For many in the secular world, this box would simply be
circumstantial evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, a tenet supported only by gospels and scripture [sic]. . . and, of course, by the faith of hundreds of millions through 2,000 years.
Did you catch that? Eyewitness accounts (more than we have for some of the most famous individuals in history and some from extra-biblical sources) are the only evidence we have for the Man who changed everything. Oh, and, of course, the billions of believers (to be accurate) throughout history who have had their lives changed.
Whether the ossuary is authentic or not should not concern believers, since plenty of historical proof is already there for those willing to examine it. Instead, our concern should be to show the world how real Christ is here and now and to carry the gospel of Christ even to those who refuse to believe. An ossuary is unlikely to change hearts, but the Holy Spirit can.
Ask the wrong question; get the wrong answers.
The Wall Street Journal asked both Karen Armstrong, a former nun and author of The Case for God, and Richard Dawkins, famous anti-theist, to answer the question “Where does evolution leave God?” (a loaded question full of fallacies in its own right). The catch is that neither could see what the other was writing.
For her part, Karen Armstrong dredged up a mix of syncretism (all religions are really the same), split magesteria (religion and science do not address the “same questions”), and post-modern revisionistic history (beginning with the assumption that the Bible cannot be taken at face value). Her argument is best summed up with her claim that
[r]eligion was not supposed to provide explanations that lay within the competence of reason but to help us live creatively with realities for which there are no easy solutions and find an interior haven of peace; today, however, many have opted for unsustainable certainty instead.
The god she proposes, however, is not God at all. Her god cannot be known, since that is idol worship; he cannot interact with the universe, since “science” (i.e., naturalism) informs us as to reality; and he cannot communicate clearly—if at all—since her god is whatever myth, enlightenment, or nirvana suits a particular person. This god of hers is nothing more than that “which cannot easily be put into words.” Thus, her god is a powerless, useless appendage to the universe. Faith without certainty is not faith (Hebrews 11:16)—it is agnosticism dressed up with spiritual words.
Dawkins, at least, realizes that evolution (as a tenet of naturalism) excludes God. To him, evolution is the “universe’s greatest work” and the “creator of life.” Evolution, in fact, leaves God with
nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God’s redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain [sic]. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.
In one sense, we agree with Dawkins (we’ll get to the flaws in his thinking later). If naturalism were the correct means of understanding the universe and life, then God would be at best a superfluous concept—something that theistic evolutionists would do well to learn. There are no “magesteria”; naturalists are far too greedy to allow anything to slip through their fingers. They want sole possession of all explanations. God need not apply.
That isn’t to say that Dawkins presents a compelling argument. Let’s examine some of his claims to underscore the holes in his logic and the biases he refuses to admit:
Evolution is the universe’s greatest work. Evolution is the creator of life, and life is arguably the most surprising and most beautiful production that the laws of physics have ever generated.
What should trouble even atheists here is the personification Dawkins applies to evolution. Of course, he means that evolution, while not truly sentient, is capable of doing the creative work many attribute to God. This is convenient shorthand. However, behind this personification is the tacit reminder that naturalism is a type of religious expression, complete with a creation myth (big bang, abiogenesis, and evolution), priesthood (scientists), religious texts (Origin of Species, to name one), and an accepted order of things (a consistent universe)—as well as answers to the great “why” questions of existence.
What is so special about life? It never violates the laws of physics. Nothing does (if anything did, physicists would just have to formulate new laws—it’s happened often enough in the history of science).
In other words, miracles are impossible because they violate the laws of physics. Anything that seems to be a miracle would simply change the accepted laws so that it is no longer a miracle, but an aspect of the new laws. Of course, the definition of an actual miracle is that it is a one-time event that does violate the laws of physics. In other words, it need not be accounted for by scientific explanation or the normal operation of the universe because it happens only in a very specific context. Simply excluding the possibility of a miracle a priori does not prove they cannot happen. It simply betrays the bias of the observer—and the arrogance of assuming that the observer knows that a violation of those laws has never happened and could not.
If we didn’t know about life we wouldn’t believe it was possible—except, of course, that there’d then be nobody around to do the disbelieving!
This assumption here is a non sequitur. It does not follow that because we are here, life must have evolved. One could legitimately counter that since we are here, God must have created us. While we can observe the characteristic of existence (i.e., we are here), the means of existence is not an observable fact.
Not once do any of these creatures disobey one jot or tittle of the laws of physics. Far from violating the laws of thermodynamics (as is often ignorantly alleged) they are relentlessly driven by them. Far from violating the laws of motion, animals exploit them to their advantage as they walk, run, dodge and jink, leap and fly, pounce on prey or spring to safety.
Yes, but naturalists must assume that life did violate the constraints of biogenesis at some point. Dawkins conveniently omits this law of biology (and physics) that life cannot arise spontaneously from nonliving material. This includes both complex and “simple” life-forms, both now and in the past (without a supernatural act). We learn from thermodynamics that the universe is gradually winding down, which is consistent with the biblical account. Whether evolution violates thermodynamic principles is not the point; the point is the processes supposedly driving Darwinian evolution (e.g., natural selection, mutations, gene drift) cannot accomplish the miraculous feats that Dawkins attributes to them (e.g., making bunnies from biological goo).
Living things, of course, abide by the laws that govern the universe. But there is no justification for claiming that a violation cannot happen in any instance—despite the evidence. For example, hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Jesus Christ living after death, and many of them attested to it in writing. Naturalism tells us resurrection cannot happen. We can listen to self-proclaimed experts 2,000 years after the fact, or we can listen to those who saw a violation of natural laws with their own eyes and chose to die rather than denounce this claim.
We know, as certainly as we know anything in science, that [Darwinian evolution] is the process that has generated life on our own planet.
In a subtle way, this is the fallacy of reification. Dawkins is essentially claiming that “science” is an absolute authority on what is truth, and “science” shows us evolution is certain. But all the bluster in the world cannot conceal the fact that science is not some impartial arbitrator of truth claims. Science is a tool by which information is gathered about the universe in an isolated means. We cannot use science to test all circumstances at all times. For that, the scientist leans upon a belief about how the universe operates.
It may seem obvious, but science is performed by the scientist and not the other way around. This means science is subservient to beliefs and expectations. What we “know” in science is what we can observe and test. Darwinian evolution is a non-repeatable proposition. It is not science or knowledge and is, instead, a historical framework. To the naturalist, evidence A and B must be tied together by Darwinism (the framework), simply because supernatural causes are refused from the onset. When you refuse any alternative, you have only one option. This is the real reason Dawkins is so sure.
What if the greatest show on earth is not the greatest show in the universe? What if there are life forms on other planets that have evolved so far beyond our level of intelligence and creativity that we should regard them as gods, were we ever so fortunate (or unfortunate?) as to meet them?
This rather odd statement makes one wonder what Dawkins means. Perhaps he, like many other naturalists, is looking for our “space brothers” to be our salvation and to provide us with technological answers. Or perhaps he thinks aliens have visited humans in the past, which gave rise to many myths about gods. He has previously implied that aliens could have seeded the earth for life at some point in the past. Whatever he means, his faith in the power of abiogenesis and evolution is quite strong—if misguided.
Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable—and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.
Dawkins’s understanding of intelligence is—to say the least—inadequate. Intelligence is not merely complex; a shuffled deck of cards is complex, and any particular arrangement of cards has the same probability of occurring by chance. Intelligence, on the other hand, is specified or integrated complexity.
Beyond this flaw, this paragraph reveals the crux of Dawkins’s argument: God cannot exist because the universe could not generate Him. This is simply a rehashing of two common objections to God: 1) Who created God? and 2) Could God create a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it? Dawkins’s assessment, like these other two questions, commits the fallacy of bifurcation (i.e., the either/or fallacy). Either God obeys certain expectations, or He doesn’t exist, which is a deeply flawed argument. Let’s take a closer look at the structure of what Dawkins claims:
The problem with this argument is that it requires faulty assumptions to be passed off as fact. One has to assume that God can only exist if He exists solely within our universe. Considering that naturalists would admit there was a point before space-time existed (i.e., before the big bang when even the laws of physics did not operate) and even postulate other universes beyond our own, this is a peculiar claim. God, by His nature, is not confined to our universe. We are. Our finite understanding and three-dimensional perspective do not preclude the existence of a being beyond those limitations. Setting up a straw-god and knocking it down does not disprove God.
The core “proof” that Dawkins offers is simply that there are natural laws that must be obeyed at all times by all things. However, what he cannot address is why a consistent universe should exist at all and why we should expect God to be confined to it. The underlying assumption is that since Dawkins presupposes naturalism, we should too. With him, it is naturalism first—evidence later. He refuses to see the biases that blind him. He cannot fathom that natural laws are an outworking of God’s unchanging nature; he cannot understand a Being acting outside of space-time; he will not ponder the fallacies in his approach.
What’s left is a man clenching his fist and declaring that God must obey him, a God he does not want to exist. How sad that even the “defender” of faith (Karen Armstrong) could offer nothing but post-modern meaninglessness to counter his biased and patronizing assertions.
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