1. Wired: “Birth of New Species Witnessed by Scientists

Scientists have watched as a new species is “born”—or is that “evolved”?—on one of the Galapagos Islands, home of Darwin’s famous finches.

Peter and Rosemary Grant have studied Darwin’s finches for decades. Now, the biologists have “witnessed that elusive moment when a single species splits in two,” BBC News reports.

The birds on the islands are popularly known for helping inspire Charles Darwin’s ideas on natural selection and speciation, hence their nickname. For that reason, the birds—as with peppered moths—are a common example of natural selection and “evolution” in action.

The Grants’ story begins with a specimen of Geospiza fortis (a medium ground finch) that flew from a neighboring island to the Grants’ island in 1981 (and was captured by the Grants). The finch was larger than most, had a wider beak, sang an unusual song, and had several genetic variations from a “foreign” finch species. After finding a mate—who also had some outsider genetic variations—the two birds had five male offspring.

The new males were set apart from their island kin because they inherited not only their father’s large size and wide beak, but also his unique songs with some new twists. While the sons managed to find mates who were native to the island, their descendants—at least by four generations later—were only breeding with one another. It seems their distinct songs caused the male offspring to be ignored by all but their kin.

The finding was reinforced when a drought killed many of the island’s finches, including all of the foreign finch’s descendants except one male and his sister. They summarily mated with one another, as did their offspring. After more generations followed suit, the Grants decided it was time to deem the birds the first of a new species because they do not breed with the native finches.

This story is a good illustration of several creationist points:

  • While some may refer to the new species as evidence of “evolution,” the term can only be fairly applied if evolution means “change.” The new species has no new genetic information, but instead only a mix of genetic information from multiple finch species that has led to reproductive isolation. Repeating similar processes for millions of years would not change these birds into anything other than birds.
  • If the birds do, indeed, constitute a new species, the Grants have observed how quickly a new species can emerge. Observations such as these allow us to imagine how, after the Flood, the animals on the Ark would have rapidly spread worldwide, with their offspring splitting into more and more species as time passed (accounting for the biodiversity we see today).
  • Recall that there is no evidence that the new finch species cannot breed successfully with the native finch species—only that members of the new species don’t. Even after many more generations, the old and new finches will probably still be able to have viable offspring. This is a microcosmic example of how many different species today can interbreed (e.g., horses and zebras), reminding us that they are part of the same created kind (from Genesis 1).

The Grants have done science a service in documenting in detail (and through years of arduous observation) an instance of speciation. While that confirms Darwin’s ideas about natural selection (which others had pointed out before Darwin), it provides no evidence for the idea that all species share a single common ancestor.

2. ScienceNOW: “The Moon Is Wet!

Kapow! That’s one small plume for man, one amazing new discovery for mankind.

Being the science geeks that we are, this story has all the elements of something we get excited about: spacecraft, a high-speed collision, and definitive evidence of water. Too bad the news reports don’t stick with the facts.

Last month, many observers were disappointed when LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) slammed into the moon. The plume from that impact, which was supposed to be spectacular, proved anticlimactic to say the least, as most of the debris remained hidden behind a hill for those of us on earth.

But from the initial disappointment came an amazing discovery. We’ll let Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator from NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, tell the news (via Live Science):

Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit, we found a significant amount.

The plume, though smaller than expected, did allow scientists to take spectrographic measurements of the compounds found in the debris. Light is absorbed at different wavelengths by various compounds, which gave the scientists an opportunity to “see” which compounds were present in the dust. Two of the measurements (infrared and ultraviolet) revealed the signature for “water vapor, water ice, and hydroxyl ions produced when sunlight splits water molecules.”

All told, Colaprete estimates that the impact site on the moon’s south pole is likely “wetter than the Atacama Desert” in South America. If this bears out in other locations on the moon, humans may one day have abundant supplies of drinking water for long-term lunar missions.

So, how did the water get there? That’s where the facts go out the window and imagination runs wild. National Geographic News, for example, gives four possible theories for where the water came from: 1) pushed up by ancient volcanoes billions of years ago, 2) brewed by solar wind over billions of years, 3) deposited by asteroids and comets over billions of years, and 4) stolen from the earth billions of years ago. See if you notice the common element.

One theory is, not surprisingly, avoided:

God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. (Genesis 1:7)

The Bible has always explained that God “separated the waters” to make the expanse or firmament (i.e., what we see in the sky). It’s no surprise, then, that there should be water on the moon—and in many other places throughout the universe.

We should note the absence of “is there life?” speculations associated with this find. Perhaps this is simply because our moon is much more studied, along with the fact that the water was in frozen form. Most evidence of water in the solar system or beyond includes flights of fancy about whether alien fish or other life may take up residence there. After all, many evolutionists seem to suppose that life could’ve popped up with the first drop of rain—never mind that it doesn’t happen in the present on earth.

We’d much prefer the science, though. And, of course, God’s eyewitness account.

For more information:

3. BBC News: “Missing Link Dinosaur Discovered

We typically think of the “missing link” as an ape–human transitional form. In this case, though, the “missing link” is “big, short-footed, barrel-chested, long-necked, small-headed dinosaur.”

A team of scientists led by the University of Witwatersrand’s Adam Yates has described a new dinosaur fossil found in South Africa. The researchers claim it represents a transitional form that links the earliest, bipedal dinosaurs with sauropods—large quadruped dinosaurs that fed on plants.

Named Aardonyx celestae, the team dates the find to 200 million years ago. “It had a lot of features we see on sauropods,” Yates said. “Short, broad feet, and a big, broad gut, so it was clearly a plant-eater that was bulk-feeding. And the anatomy of the jaw shows it had a wide gape—to stuff more food in.” Further, Yates said the fossil had “sauropod-like front feet,” explaining, “Its toe bones were very robust and solid, so its weight was being born on the inside of the foot.

Despite this evidence, the scientists believe that the dinosaur walked on two legs most of the time, calling it “intermediate between those bipedal forms and the true gigantic sauropods.” Yates explains, “It was still bipedal, but it may have been going down on to all fours to browse.”

One problem is that, according to the evolutionary estimate of the fossil’s age (based on its location in the fossil record), it lived too late to be the actual missing link between bipedal and quadrupedal dinosaurs. Yates explains that at the time the fossil was alive, it was a “living fossil”—a descendant of the actual alleged missing link between dinosaurs that walked on two legs and those that walked on four.

Thus, even the scientists describing Aardonyx believe it lived alongside fully bipedal and fully quadrupedal dinosaurs. So even if we were to agree that Aardonyx walked on two legs some of the time and four legs at other times (i.e., was distinct from other sauropods), we need not accept it as a “missing link.” Instead, it could been created at the same time as other dinosaur kinds, living alongside them from Creation Week—with no evolutionary transitions needed.

4. ScienceDaily: “Slowing Evolution to Stop Drug Resistance

Pathogenic resistance to antibiotics is a textbook example of “direct evidence for evolution”—literally. What does recent work on the topic suggest?

You’ll have to excuse us if you’ve heard this before. For years, evolutionists have pointed to antibiotic resistance as proof of evolution in action. The argument often amounts to this (in simplified form): the fact that certain organisms grow resistant to certain antibiotics is evidence for the evolutionary idea that all animals must have descended from a single ancestor. Collapsing the argument does make it seem a bit silly, but that’s our point.

We certainly don’t want to belittle the very real threat of dangerous organisms becoming immune to the best drugs we now have (though the vast majority of microbes are actually important to life). But we cringe when media reports continue to dredge up the word evolution for something that is certainly not that. Add this to the personified nature of a supposedly non-intelligent process (e.g., evolution creates, progresses, etc.), and you have a news story.

In this case, Jonas Warringer and other researchers at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Gothenburg hope to find ways to slow the progress of drug resistance in fungi. Fungal cells are particularly problematic because they

are similar to human cells, which means that it is difficult to develop effective drugs that can destroy them without also damaging human cells, i.e. without causing side effects.

To combat the growing resistance, the team takes baker’s yeast and exposes it to a number of drugs to see how the fungus develops resistance. By knocking out one of the 6,000 genes that the yeast has, they are also able to study the impact that each gene has on the organism becoming immune. Over time, they hope to develop drugs that can inhibit fungal resistance.

This, however, is not how the researchers or the news story framed the study. For them, it’s all about using the word evolution as many times as possible to buttress their point (12 times to be exact—not including the title):

“Evolution progresses more slowly in some strains when a specific component is destroyed. These strains are like gold dust to us, because they tell us that these particular components are critical to the speed of evolution,” says Jonas Warringer.

But, as always, this depends on what is meant by evolution. Obviously, the fungi change over time to adapt to environmental stimuli (i.e., the drugs). Some strains don’t survive; some strains do and reproduce. Knocking out genes inhibits the ability of the yeast to adapt as quickly or at all. What this study cannot produce is evidence that the yeast will ever be anything but yeast—and that’s the real core of Darwin’s postulate.

Natural selection, mutations, and even DNA swapping all contribute to the survival of microbes and also allow them, in our fallen world, to adapt to our best antibiotics. As this study shows, we may be able to slow down how fast that happens. But it’s important to remember that all of those observable processes are not evolution in the molecules-to-man sense. Rather, they show us how amazingly designed microbes are.

5. ScienceNOW: “Chemical Reactions Guide Birds Home

Intelligent design means never having to ask for directions.

Turtles, birds, and butterflies had GPS long before humans invented the device. These creatures migrate thousands of miles each year to find food, to find breeding grounds, and to escape harsher seasons. Now scientists may be one step closer to uncovering how this animal navigation system works.

There are two camps in the debate over how animals detect earth’s magnetic field to find their way: some claim the animals use actual biological magnets, while others argue for chemical reactions that are impacted by magnetic fields. The problem with the magnet idea is that scientists are unsure if these magnets are hooked up to the animals’ brains. For example, the iron crystals in bird beaks would be useless for navigation if the bird couldn’t “tune into” them.

The chemical reaction camp has faced its share of problems as well, but two recent research initiatives seem to support the idea that a chemical called cryptochrome, when impacted by light,

changes into one of two states that differ in the position of an unpaired (or radical) electron. The ratio of these two states depends on the orientation of cryptochrome to magnetic fields. The “radical-pair” camp argues that birds navigate chemically with cryptochrome and visually by tracking the position of the sun and stars.

In the first study, which may seem macabre to some, biologists at the University of Oldenburg in Germany tested both theories by altering robins’ brains. One set of robins had the nerves to their beaks snipped, and the other set had lesions created in the region of the brain called cluster N (thought to control the magnetic sensing of eye cells). The first set could still detect magnetic fields, but the second set could not.

A related study investigated the “disorder” of the cells in the birds’ eyes. Critics of the chemical reaction theory say that this disorder would prevent the birds from using the cryptochrome to sense magnetic fields. Erin Hill and Thorsten Ritz, biophysicists at the University of California–Irvine, determined just how much disorder would keep the cryptochrome from working. They found that

even using the cryptochrome in a single cell, a bird should be able to sense its orientation relative to Earth's magnetic field.

For creationists, there are two main points to take away from these discoveries. First, the amazing complexity of living things is certainly strong confirmation of what Paul said in Romans 1:20. These biological systems far outstrip anything we could invent and testify about the Creator.

Secondly, both of these studies demonstrate the effectiveness of observational science. Repeatable results have been produced using rigorous standards to uncover how something works. There’s still no definitive answer as to how these animals navigate, but these are steps toward that answer.

The problem is that good science like this is almost always polluted with unsupportable ideas. Evolutionary storytellers jump on such results and try to explain how animal navigation “arose by mutation and natural selection.” Is there a need for such conjecture? No, not one bit.

Good science doesn’t need evolution and billions of years. It needs observations in the present. Anything else almost always depends on beliefs and worldviews. Besides, we already know where these systems came from (Genesis 1:20–24); all that’s left is to figure out how they work.

For more information:

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Could one species of African monkey, Rungwecebus kipunji, be from the same created kind as baboons (from the Papio genus)? That may be the implication of recent research that revealed what may be traces of baboon DNA in one Rungwecebus population.
  • Why is religion ubiquitous—is it because it “has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection,” as was argued in The New York Times this week? John UpChurch of Answers in Genesis will respond to the provocative piece in a featured web article in December.
  • Is the human brain shrinking? A LiveScience essay notes, “Surprisingly, based on skull measurements, the human brain appears to have been shrinking over the last 5,000 or so years.” We have not fully researched how scientists arrived at this conclusion, but if true, it would fit in well with the Bible’s presentation of man as created perfect—but affected but the Fall in the six millennia since.
  • Last week we noted the story of Abby Johnson, the director of an abortion clinic who had resigned after watching an abortion on an ultrasound machine. A reader sent in a LifeNews.com report describing the “battle” Johnson now faces with the Episcopalian Church she attends, which (she perceives) is hostile to her new pro-life stance.
  • The fact that chimpanzees gesture primarily with their right hands suggests “another link between humans and one of the species most closely related to us,” National Geographic News reports. While chimpanzees are indeed intelligent (relative to many animals) and are similar to us in many ways, this discovery no more proves our evolutionary heritage with chimps than parrot speech proves an evolutionary connection with birds.
  • Australian and British researchers are studying insect wings as inspiration for “self-cleaning, water-resistant, and friction-free coatings for a wide range of machine components, construction materials, and other applications,” Nanowerk News reports.
  • We’ve previously written about erstwhile U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her creationist views—see the September 6, 13, 20, and October 4 editions of News to Note from last year. The former Alaska governor just released a memoir, Going Rogue, in which she offers an anecdote about her creationist views. Palin explains (according to MSNBC), “I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adopt.” That sounds in line with the Bible’s teaching if by “evolutionary process” Palin means the working of natural selection to reduce genetic information in organisms, resulting in speciation from the original created kinds.

For more information: Get Answers

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