1. BBC News: “Primate Fossil ‘Not an Ancestor’

Remember “Ida,” the missing link that wasn’t? In a Nature letter, scientists attack the lofty claims that surrounded the announcement of the fossil primate.

The researchers take issue with the interpretation of Ida propounded by such prominent evolutionists as David Attenborough, who said at the time:

“Now people can say, ‘Okay, you say we’re primates . . . show us the link.’ The link, they would have said until now, is missing. Well, it is no longer missing.”

We originally covered the news in Ida (Darwinius masillae): the Missing Link at Last?, writing “Nothing about this fossil suggests it is anything other than an extinct, lemur-like creature.” That comment was summarily repeated by worldwide news organizations as representing the creationist view.

It wasn’t only creationists who disagreed with the “missing link” interpretation of Ida, however. In the article Ida (Darwinius masillae): the Real Story of this “Scientific Breakthrough”, we quoted a slew of evolutionist scientists who felt that the Ida research was not necessarily inaccurate, but also may have been exaggerated because of financial motivations. The Associated Press reports, “A publicity blitz called [Ida] ‘the link’ that would reveal the earliest evolutionary roots of monkeys, apes and humans. Experts protested that Ida wasn’t even a close relative.”

Of particular concern was that the “human ancestor” claims about Ida (which the media heavily hyped) had been cut from the peer-reviewed paper on the fossil. Further, it appeared the researchers had a vested interest in claiming Ida was significant, as they were trying to sell a book and promote a television documentary on the fossil. (Critics alleged that the team needed to earn a return on the fossil, which had been purchased at a high price).

Now, four scientists at U.S. universities have formalized some of the attacks on Ida’s missing link status (“Convergent Evolution of Anthropoid-Like Adaptations in Eocene Adapiform Primates”). The team, although evolutionists, agrees with our conclusion that Ida “belonged to a group more closely linked to lemurs than to monkeys, apes, or us,” BBC News reports.

The letter focuses on the description and analysis of a fossil called Afradapis longicristatus, which, the team argues, is closely related to Ida. Together, A. longicristatus and Ida (formally called Darwinius masillae) compose an extinct group of primates related to lemurs and lorises.

Research head Erik Seiffert, an anatomist/paleontologist at Stony Brook University, explained, “'The suggestion that Ida [was] . . . specifically related to the higher primates, namely monkeys apes and humans, was actually a minority view from the start. So it came as a surprise to many of us who are studying primate paleontology.” Seiffert continued,

“We have analyzed a large data set based on observations we have made on almost 120 living and extinct primates and . . . we find . . . Darwinius and this new genus that we’ve described are not part of our ancestry. They are more closely related to lemurs and lorises than they are to tarsirs or monkeys, apes and humans. This study would effectively remove Ida from our ancestry.

The University of Oslo’s Jørn Hurum, who was on the original team investigating Ida, responded to Seiffert, et al., in the Nature issue. “It’s a very interesting paper, and—at last—this is the start of the scientific discussion around the specimen we described in May nicknamed Ida.”

As far as we’re concerned, the new study only reaffirms our original appraisal of Ida: a (presumably extinct) lemur-like creature quite distinct from humans, neither suggesting evolution nor disproving creation in any way.

2. Did the Baby Mammoth, Lyuba, Suffocate in a Dust Storm?

In a special guest news analysis, creationist (and mammoth expert) Michael Oard considers the well-preserved mammoth “Lyuba” (whom we first discussed in A Mammoth Discovery). The occasion? Lyuba’s worldwide debut.

The baby woolly mammoth named Lyuba will be leaving Siberia for a ten-city world tour with its first stop at the Field Museum in Chicago. Lyuba is a female calf probably about one month old, although it was earlier thought to be anywhere from three to six months old. The carcass of Lyuba was discovered almost perfectly preserved in May 2007 on a sandbar of the Yuribey River, Yamal Peninsula, Siberia, by a reindeer breeder and hunter. It was only missing its hair and toenails, but is considered the best preserved of any animal. The calf was named Lyuba after the breeder’s wife. It weighed 110 pounds (50 kg) and was about the size of a large dog.

It is an extremely rare find, since the reindeer breeder had seen many mammoth tusks in his travels but never a carcass, especially one so well preserved. Carcasses, consisting of a whole body or even a scrap of flesh, are indeed rare—numbering less than a hundred.

Lyuba was dated at 40,000 years old by carbon-14 within the uniformitarian timescale. Assuming there is no contamination, using the disequilibrium method of carbon-14 dating, and bringing the Flood back into earth history, this mammoth lived during the post-Flood Ice Age (over 4,000 years ago). The animal appeared healthy with its mother’s milk still in its stomach. The mammoth also had a curious dent in her face above the trunk. Scientists also discovered that the hump on the back of its neck acted for fat storage that would help maintain body temperature during cold weather. Using computer tomography scans, scientists discovered that opaque blobs of blue vivianite were in its soft tissues, some muscles were detached from the bones, and some bones were distorted. Vivianite is a type of iron phosphate, the phosphate possibly leached from its bones. The scientists speculate on the meaning of these observations, but it is unsure if they have interpreted them correctly.

The carcass was earlier sent to Japan in 2007 to extract intact DNA. Scientists plan to map the DNA. A long-range goal is to clone a mammoth by inserting a woolly mammoth cell into the womb of an Asian elephant, the closest morphologically to the woolly mammoth. Apparently, this technology is still a long way off.

Perhaps the most curious observation of Lyuba is that its trunk, mouth, throat, and windpipe were filled with dense sediment. The sediment has been variously described as silt, mud, and clay and sand. This material suggests that Lyuba suffocated in mud near a river to Dan Fisher and water to Naoki Suzuki.

Another curious problem is that Lyuba was found in May before the June ice off. So, the animal likely was eroded out the previous year and lay exposed through the summer of 2006. The question of why it did not decay and why scavengers did not destroy it is a mystery. The scientists assume that it was eroded out of a high, sheer bluff of permafrost that was steadily being undercut by the river. Fisher suggests that the clay in the mammoth “pickled” it to preserve it over the summer of 2006, but this does not seem logical to me.

I have another hypothesis. The high bluffs of this river are very likely loess, which is mostly wind-blown silt but also can include some clay and sand. So, the calf breathed in loess during an end Ice Age dust storm and suffocated, the cause of death for three other mammoths and two woolly rhinos.

3. National Geographic News: “Chimps Display Humanlike Good Will

Chimps, especially mothers and their offspring, help each other. While that makes them “more similar to humans than previously thought,” does it mean we’re all just apes?

A National Geographic News video profiles a Japanese study in which six mother/offspring pairs of chimpanzees (i.e., twelve total) helped one another obtain juice “without having been trained to do so.” In a PLoS One paper, the researchers claim the experiment shows evidence of human-like altruism in the apes.

The animals in the study were trained to use sticks in order to reach straws out of reach, then to use the straws to drink juice. The researchers did not train the chimps to share sticks or straws with one another. Yet fifty-nine percent of the time, one chimp passed a stick or straw to another; that figure increased to seventy-five percent if a chimp appeared to ask for the stick or straw.

“Although chimpanzees and humans are almost the same animals if you look at the composition of DNA, we normally think that humans create higher social systems by helping each other,” said Tokyo University ethologist Toshikazu Hasegawa. He continued, “So, we normally think there is a wide gap between humans and chimps. But the result of this experience filled the gap between two species. The results showed that chimps also have humanity in their behavior.”

“Humanity in their behavior”? “Almost the same animals”? Such comments remind us of the evolutionary approach of the researchers, for whom altruism (especially “true” altruism, which cannot be reduced to self-interest in any way) is a puzzle (for atheistic evolutionists in particular). But altruism is no puzzle if we recognize that the Creator is also Lawgiver, and that creatures may act selflessly as well as selfishly. (Additionally, this study’s conclusion seems suspect given that half of the apes were in related pairs. “Altruism” toward a parent or child is quite different from altruism toward a stranger.)

4. ScienceDaily: “Are Humans Still Evolving? Absolutely, Says a New Analysis of a Long-term Survey of Human Health

Many humans believe evolution does indeed happen. Is it happening to them as well?

A team sponsored by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center reports in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that humans are, indeed, still “evolving.”

The researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study, a 60-year review of more than two thousand American women’s health and the number of children born to them. Based on that data, the scientists extrapolated to the future and concluded the women’s descendants, at least, will be “slightly shorter and heavier, will have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, will have their first child at a younger age, and will reach menopause later in life,” a press release from the NESC reports.

“The take-home message is that humans are currently evolving. Natural selection is still operating,” said evolutionary biologist Stephen Stearns of Yale University. The finding goes against the idea that modern medicine has nullified the effect of natural selection in humans.

Stearns went on, “These results place humans in the medium-to-slow end of the range of rates [of ‘evolution’] observed for other living things. But what that means is that humans aren’t special with respect to how fast they’re evolving. They’re kind of average.”

While we don’t doubt that some evolutionist will claim this is yet more evidence to “prove creationism wrong,” the research easily fits into the creation worldview. Natural selection (a biological effect we observe today) is fully compatible with special creation. However, we wonder if some of the study’s extrapolated changes in humanity would better be described as genetic drift (which also fits into the creation worldview).

More important is what “evolution” the scientists didn’t discover: there was no evidence that, on a genetic level, the descendants will have new genetic information leading to new anatomical features and biological functions. That is the “evolution” that would be required were evolution of the Darwinian sort to occur: simple life-forms transforming into complex life-forms over millions of years.

In related news, anthropologist Peter McAllister argues in a new book that modern man would be no match for our ancestors’ athleticism. Manthropology: The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male documents evidence that humans of the past were likely much more fit and fast than even today’s top athletes. Of course, such is what we would expect: God created a perfect human couple in a perfect world, but their descendants (viz., us) have faced millennia of destructive mutations as well as the ease of today’s sedentary lifestyle. (The latter effect, we admit, has probably been much more significant in the past few centuries.)

And while we’re on the topic of human evolution, could it be that the voters who elected U.S. President Barack Obama did so because of the subconscious effects of evolution as postulated in this Physorg article? The researchers believe that “Traits like height, age, gender, masculinity/femininity, and weight all appear to matter when we vote for our leaders. These are likely hangovers from our evolutionary past—ancestral leadership prototypes that are context-dependent.” But the association of height with leadership, for example, can be understood from the creation perspective as well.

5. BBC News: “‘Ethical’ Stem Cell Crop Boosted

Research into stem cell therapies continues to find new ways to harvest the valuable cells without ethical compromises, as is shown by a new breakthrough described in Nature Methods.

A team at the Scripps Research Institute continues to learn more about generating stem cells from adult human tissue, an alternative to the controversial method of destroying viable human embryos to harvest their stem cells. The new development increases the potential yield of adult stem cell harvesting, using chemicals to make the process two hundred times more efficient while doubling the technique’s speed.

BBC News reports that the first successful production of stem cells from adult skin cells took place in 2007 (we commented on the news in our November 24 News to Note). Yet the success rate of production at the time was only one in ten thousand cells, and the process took weeks. Furthermore, the scientists used a virus to transform the cells, which led to worries about cancer formation.

Last May, however, the team determined how to create the stem cells with chemicals rather than a virus. The new breakthrough is an improvement of that procedure. Researcher Sheng Ding, who was also instrumental in the previous work, noted, “Both in terms of speed and efficiency, we achieved major improvements over conventional conditions. This is the first example in human cells of how reprogramming speed can be accelerated.”

The new technique should propel further research into the team’s stem-cell-producing method, which should, in turn, bring the promise of widespread stem cell therapies closer to reality. And the process is entirely free of the moral and ethical dangers associated with embryonic stem cell research—which looks more and more unjustified as time passes.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Meet a model of Fruitadens haagarorum, the smallest dinosaur known to have lived in North America. At just 28 inches (70 cm) long, it reminds us that taking dinosaurs on the Ark would have been feasible for Noah: not only were many dinosaurs smaller than those in popular films, but Noah could have taken juveniles as well.
  • “How evolution arrived at this solution to the challenge of genome storage is unknown,” a Wired article on the human genome notes, while PhysOrg carries a press release declaring that there’s “no such thing as ‘junk RNA.’” Both articles remind us of the incredible design in living cells.
  • In the news this week is a paper by Richard Lenski, et al., on the “evolving” E. coli at Michigan State University. Our perspective remains as we reported it last June; creation scientists also explored the research in A Poke in the Eye? and A Creationist Perspective of Beneficial Mutations in Bacteria.
  • Astronomers have discovered thirty-two new exoplanets; no word yet on how many are hoped to be harboring alien life.
  • Could a collection of “pulverized” dinosaur bones—considered evidence of a “massive die-off event”—have something to do with the catastrophic Flood?
  • The latest in a long line of old-earth ideas about what killed off the dinosaurs: two nearly simultaneous asteroid impacts (“only” a few hundred thousand years apart), the usually cited Chicxulub crater near Mexico and a hypothesized crater in the Indian Ocean.
  • Move over, Richard Dawkins; it’s “Atheism 3.0,” a gentler atheism that doesn’t find religion an entirely bad thing. Our guess is that Dawkins’ caustic atheism will return in the 4.0 “upgrade.”

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