Dark matter: it’s mysterious, elusive (if it does exist), controversial—and now verified?
Three weeks ago, we wrote, “Creationists have no inherent (i.e., biblical) reason to stand for or against the existence of dark matter. But as it is, dark matter is largely a speculation driven by big bang beliefs.” Our words were in comment on a news item that warned us that an upcoming announcement pertaining to the discovery of dark matter would be “of marginal statistical significance.”
That announcement has since been made. Physicists working at the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search, housed in an underground laboratory in Minnesota, are using highly sensitive equipment to try to detect the energy given off by “weakly interacting massive particles.” WIMPs, as they are known, are thought by many physicists to be the constituent subatomic particles of dark matter. They believe the only way to detect dark matter is to look for the energy released by WIMPs as they are repelled from “ordinary” matter.
The CDMS physicists have now found two such signatures in the form of minuscule heat deposits in the laboratory detectors. The discoveries are thus “consistent with” what scientists would find if dark matter actually does exist. But the problem, as scientist Pier Oddone explains, is that “while this result is consistent with dark matter, it is also consistent with backgrounds”—that is, contamination of the detectors from foreign particles. Hence the earlier “warning” article’s claim that the discovery was of marginal statistical significance. That also explains the caution of Brown University physicist Richard Gaitskell, who said that “nobody should be attempting to say that this is evidence” for dark matter.
Regardless, the CDMS team is quickly upgrading its equipment for enhanced sensitivity, which prompted team member Joseph Lykken to claim that “next year  will be the year of dark matter.” If it is, creationists will need no special explanations for dark matter’s existence; nonetheless, we remain cautious at this point.
We’ve responded before to the claim that antibiotics cause microbes to “evolve” resistance (as if it didn’t exist before). Is the idea that disinfectants “train” microbes to become resistant any different?
A team at the National University of Ireland studied the response of bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa to a disinfectant. P. aeruginosa commonly infects those already ill, resulting in opportunistic infections in hospital patients—so it is already a prime target of hospital disinfectants. But when subjected to “increasing amounts of disinfectant” in the lab, P. aeruginosa cultures developed resistance not only to the disinfectant but also to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin—even though the cultures were never exposed to ciprofloxacin.
The resistant P. aeruginosa had a mutation that let them “pump out” harmful substances—be they disinfectants or antibiotics—from their cells. They also had developed a particular resistance to ciprofloxacin.
The danger the scientists point out is that disinfectants used in hospitals can be counterproductive (potentially), ensuring that whatever microbes do reach patients will already be resistant to antibiotics. Ironically, however, the problem was made worse in the lab by the high concentration of disinfectant used. The lower levels used in hospitals are thus less of a concern. But researcher Gerry McDonnell noted, “This really needs to be an area of active investigation and debate. But it’s worth bearing in mind that disinfectants may not just be the problem, they may also be the cure.”
Our guess is that a minority (perhaps a very small minority) of individuals in the P. aeruginosa cultures already had the “mutation” enabling them to counteract the disinfectant. This mutation would not represent new genetic information, but more likely the corruption of existing genetic information. As such, this difference would make the “mutants” less successful under ordinary circumstances, but after the disinfectant destroyed all other P. aeruginosa, the resistant individuals could thrive. While the population as a whole could be said to have “evolved,” the genetic information in the population would be reduced overall—the opposite direction of genetic change from that which is required for molecules-to-man evolution.
If molecules-to-man evolution is a myth, why does evolution seem to explain some scientific observations? Or can mechanisms underlying fish “evolution” be understood without appealing to molecules-to-man evolution?
In October 2008 we covered research into the “evolution” of fish known as cichlids in Africa’s Lake Victoria. New research from the same team further investigates cichlids, showing how “over 60 species of cichlid fish from Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria have adapted their visual sensitivity in response to specific ecological factors, including what they eat and the clarity of the water in which they swim.”
The researchers began by asking why so much cichlid diversity exists. Honing in on the genes that allow cichlids to detect different wavelengths of light, the scientists discovered that variations in the expression of these genes create “alternate visual systems” among the cichlids. This variation, against the backdrop of differences in African lakes, is a major factor in cichlid diversity.
More specifically, some cichlids’ vision range is spread over shorter wavelengths while others use longer wavelengths. One factor motivating the difference is the diet of the cichlid species: those whose diet consists of zooplankton—small organisms that absorb ultraviolet light—are more likely to have a visual range that includes ultraviolet sensitivity. The other key factor is the clarity of the water in which a cichlid species swims: cichlids living in the murky waters of Lake Victoria use longer wavelengths, which best allows them to see the light that penetrates the murky depths; those living in the clearer waters of Lake Malawi and some clearer spots in Lake Victoria rely on shorter wavelengths.
Of course, natural selection can explain this variation: cichlids whose eyes are suited for clear waters will not survive long in murky waters, and vice versa. Likewise, if a cichlid cannot see its prey and consequently cannot eat, it will not survive. Thus, the diversity of cichlid species can be traced back to initial genetic differences “processed” by the engine of natural selection.
That process, if repeated for millions of years, would lead to the development of new cichlid species. For example, perhaps an eyeless cichlid species would thrive in the darkest depths of Lake Victoria. But what that process cannot describe is the origin of the genetic information that makes a cichlid a cichlid or that makes eyes in a supposed cichlid ancestor that had no eyes. Lake scum undergoing natural selection for millions of years would never evolve into a cichlid population because evolution cannot explain the origin of genetic information. So while this research offers yet another solid example of the workings of natural selection (a concept creationists understand and research), it offers no support for the evolution of all life (a great amount of genetic information) from a single common ancestor (a small amount of genetic information).
When it comes to fires, chimpanzees keep their cool. Does this “reveal a primitive hominid trait”?
Iowa State University primatologist Jill Pruetz has drawn on personal experience in recent research that suggests chimpanzees “conceptualize” fire. When in Senegal in 2006, Pruetz followed a band of chimpanzees as they calmly worked their way around a savanna fire. “I was very surprised at how good they were at judging the threat and predicting the behavior of fire,” she explained. The chimps’ calm behavior sets them apart from many animals that would quickly become agitated and race off in response to flames.
According to Pruetz and East Stroudsburg University paleontologist Thomas LaDuke, chimps seem to understand that fire has predictable behavior—and thus, unlike many other animals, chimps can control their natural fear of fire and rationally work to avoid its reach. Of course, because this behavior is also found in humans, the evolutionary researchers suggest such fire-awareness—as found in chimps—is a “primitive hominid trait.” Such thinking is apparent in the comments of University of Amsterdam sociologist Joop Goudsblom, who likens the chimp behavior toward fire to that of “early hominins”:
“To manipulate fire and use it for your purposes you have to step back from it, not run away. It sounds a bit odd, but it makes sense if you go back a million years. Somehow, we managed to find the proper combination of curiosity and foresight—which is what’s needed if you want regular association with fire.”
But chimps’ calm attitude toward fire—and apparent ability to suppress an emotional response to it—is a far cry from man’s controlled use of fire and the chimps’ response to fire and does not in any way demonstrate an evolutionary link between humans and apes. Rather, it simply reminds us that chimpanzees, like some other animals, are intelligent creatures with some capabilities similar to man’s. Likewise, news of chimpanzee tool use no more shows that chimps are man’s closest evolutionary kin than news of crow tool use shows that we descended from birds.
It’s news of another “bird-like” dinosaur—but this time, it’s snake-like as well.
Scientists publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describe Sinornithosaurus, a dinosaur that is “a venomous bird for all intents and purposes,” according to University of Kansas paleontologist Larry Martin. Martin and colleagues in the U.S. and China discovered characteristic depressions on the sides of Sinornithosaurus’s face that are thought to have housed poison glands. The poison would be delivered via long teeth in the dinosaur’s jaw.
The researchers made the discovery after noting similarities between the structure of the fossil’s teeth and jaw and those of modern snakes. They also noted a similarity to the venom system of Heloderma lizards as well.
Perhaps ironically, the prey of the turkey-sized, supposedly bird-like Sinornithosaurus is thought to have been birds as well as other small dinosaurs. But while Martin insists Sinornithosaurus “was almost certainly feathered,” such an evolution-driven supposition goes against the obvious facts. The similarity of Sinornithosaurus to modern reptiles reflects the reptilian status of dinosaurs, and perhaps the small Sinornithosaurus would hardly look out of place in an exhibit with modern lizards at a zoo.
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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