1. BBC News: “Neanderthal ‘Make-up’ Containers Discovered

The stereotype of Neanderthals is that they were hulking, hairy troglodytes quite different from “refined” modern humans. Now there’s even more evidence of how incorrect that stereotype is.

Archaeologists led by Bristol University’s Joao Zilhao uncovered shells containing yellow and red pigment residues at Neanderthal dig sites in southern Spain. Coupled with similar evidence found in Africa, the pigments paint a picture of Neanderthals far more sophisticated than their stereotype—which scientists have known to be wrong for years.

“This is the first secure evidence for their use of cosmetics,” Zilhao said. “The association of these findings with Neanderthals is rock-solid and people have to draw the associations and bury this view of Neanderthals as half-wits.” The team suggests some of the pigmented shells may have also been worn as jewelry.

London Natural History Museum paleontologist Chris Stringer, commenting on the find, noted, “I agree that these findings help to disprove the view that Neanderthals were dim-witted. [But] it’s very difficult to dislodge the brutish image from popular thinking.”

Bible-believing creationists, recognizing that all humans (Neanderthal or otherwise) are descendants of the same first couple, have frequently pointed out the errors of the popular Neanderthal stereotype. Aside from minor skeletal differences—which may have even been caused or worsened by such diseases as rickets—Neanderthals were probably no different from other humans. Furthermore, studies have suggested that modern Europeans carry some Neanderthal DNA. As such, we love to learn about archaeological findings that validate what the Bible teaches: Neanderthals, like all humans, were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

2. LiveScience: “Ongoing Evolution May Explain Mysterious Rise in Diseases

Can more research into “evolutionary medicine” result in saved lives?

A team of scientists has published results that allegedly show how “taking an evolutionary perspective really helps to reduce suffering and to reduce the risk of death.” That’s according to Yale University’s Stephen Stearns, who adds, “Evolution and medicine really do have things to say to each other, and some of these insights actually reduce suffering and save lives.”

Among the research findings the scientists say are exemplary insights of evolutionary medicine is that high human rates of cancer are because we “aren’t adapted to the new risk factors of modern society, including tobacco, alcohol, a high-fat diet and contraceptives.” Another example given is that excessive modern hygiene “can result in allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.” A third example suggests a far-fetched evolutionary explanation for autism that rests on the idea that “mom and dad are in evolutionary conflict over investment of resources to their offspring”—hence problems when certain paternal or maternal genes are expressed.

None of these examples, however, requires an evolutionary perspective to explain. At most, they require a good understanding of the workings of natural selection and how genetic mutations and other mishaps cause problems.

Our fear is less that evolutionary perspectives will come to dominate medicine and more, relatively, than that these evolutionary perspectives will lead researchers to generate incorrect explanations and ineffective (or ultimately destructive) therapies. As for why disease and other biological imperfections exist in a God-designed world, Genesis 3 gives us the foundational answer.

3. BBC News: “Light Shed on Fish Gill Mystery

Did fish gills evolve to help fish breathe, or did they evolve to help fish regulate body chemicals? Or did fish gills evolve at all?

A team reports in the journal Proceedings B that fish gills may not have evolved to help fish breathe—the standard belief among evolutionary biologists. Rather, the team concluded that fish gills evolved as a chemical-regulation mechanism. The research was based on examination of gill development in rainbow trout larvae.

The scientists observed that, in the larvae, the gills’ ability to regulate chemicals appears earlier than their ability to take in oxygen. By analogy, the team inferred that the same environmental pressures which prompt gill development may have led to an equivalent evolutionary process millions of years ago.

University of San Diego biologist Rick Gonzalez noted that despite being a “very interesting first step,” it is still unclear why fish evolved gills in the first place. “The physical and chemical nature of the water can play an important role in [gill] function. So how these all work together to get the various jobs done is very interesting and offers insight into how natural selection works.”

To the contrary, this study (and others like it) seems to commit a fallacy similar to that of Haeckel’s embryo drawings, suggesting that we can learn about evolution by studying the development of an individual organism. Yet no aspect of the study explains how gills—or any aspect of fish anatomy—could have evolved given that we have not observed information-adding genetic mutations. To watch the development of these features in larvae is, rather, to catch a glimpse at the Creator’s handiwork—reproduced time and time again since creation by the genetic code He built into each created kind of plant or animal and into humans.

4. ScienceNOW: “Y Chromosome Evolving Rapidly

Is the Y chromosome a “hot spot of evolution”—in both humans and chimpanzees?

“As is well-known, humans and chimps share 98% of their DNA,” writes ScienceNOW’s Ann Gibbons, reporting on research that suggests the human Y chromosome underwent “extraordinary” evolution in the last six million years. (As creationists have pointed out before, the 98 percent figure is exaggerated—see the links below.)

It is strange, then, that one region of the Y chromosome differs by more than 30 percent in humans and chimps. That was the surprising result of a genetic study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology geneticist David Page, whose team assumed the Y chromosome would be little different between the two species (believing both inherited Y chromosomes from our common ancestor). Instead, the human Y chromosome has many genes—about one-third—that do not exist at all in the chimpanzee’s. (The study concludes that chimps have “lost” these genes since evolving from a common ancestor with humans, though we wonder why the scientists do not conclude that humans gained the genes—perhaps because it would represent “too much” evolution in too short a time?)

Duke University geneticist Huntington Willard, commenting on the study, said, “Just when we thought we were getting the sense that we had a pretty good picture of what our genome is like and how it evolved, we get tossed this curve ball.” Of course, the alternative perspective (that our genome did not evolve) finds the news unsurprising. Chimps and humans share not a common ancestor, but a Common Designer, the Lord of heaven and earth, and therefore we need not expect nor be surprised by particular degrees of genetic similarity or difference.

5. ScienceNOW: “Coral Reefs Are Evolutionary Cradles

Are beautiful coral reefs Charles Darwin’s best friends? Perhaps so, for according to one team of paleontologists, they serve as “general cradles of evolution.”

The scientists undertook an “all-embracing study” to review the paleontological history of coral reefs, reviewing previous research and adding more of their own. The goal of the work was to determine in which environment more than 6,500 marine genera evolved—based on where the oldest fossils appeared. After years of review, the team concluded that nearly 1,500 marine genera appear to have originated in reef environments.

“We were surprised to see how large the cradle effect really is,” said Museum für Naturkunde paleontologist Wolfgang Kiessling, lead author of the paper presenting the research. Scientists previously believed many reef species had evolved in shallow water, later transitioning to the reef environment.

Reflecting on the paper, Florida Institute of Technology paleontologist Richard Aronson argued that “if modern reefs continue to degrade, that could have long-term evolutionary consequences for other ecosystems by cutting off the supply of new biodiversity.”

But the location of a fossil in the fossil record only tells us where a fossil was buried—and, at most, may only suggest the sort of environment in which a creature was living when it was preserved—not where, when, or whether a creature evolved. And while an evolutionist may decide that a species’ “oldest” fossils were buried in reef environments, a creationist would consider the same data and conclude not that these fossils were older, but only that these fossils were buried lower in the fossil record.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of this week’s earthquake in Haiti. See our comments in Bringing Relief.
  • We wrote in November about the Global Witnessing Challenge, and we wanted to again remind readers of the challenge—which begins in just over 70 days.
  • A Divine Creator is “outside the realm of physics,” but the idea of “whether [life] exists in other universes outside of our own” is apparently fair game for physicists who authored Looking for Life in the Multiverse for Scientific American. The topic seems far more speculative and faith-based than religious topics that the authors may (we suppose) scoff at.
  • Der Spiegel reports on the sad legacy of an unbiblical view of human skin color—commonly (mis)called, even today, “race.”
  • Last week we mentioned our October 2008 discussion of the imminent “death” of the Phoenix Mars lander. But Phoenix may still be “alive,” and NASA is set to investigate that possibility soon.
  • Religious individuals are—no surprise—less likely than non-religious individuals to engage in the celebrity worship and obsession that seems increasingly common in modern culture. “The less religious you are the more likely you will worship celebrities. You’ll be able to replace Jesus with George Clooney on some level,” one researcher explained.
  • Research into the wrinkly skin of the shar-pei breed of dog offers insight into artificial selection: “There was probably a mutation that arose in that gene that led to a really wrinkly puppy and a breeder said, ‘hey, that looks interesting, I'm going to try to selectively breed this trait and make more of these dogs,’” explained one scientist.
  • Can stingrays use tools? Perhaps not in the same sense that many animals can, but the research reminds us of the surprising levels of intelligence seen in many organisms.
  • Investor’s Business Daily offers an editorial discussing changes the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has made to promote research into adult stem cells—a strong testimony to its promise relative to embryonic stem cell research.
  • Amazing animal travels are a testimony to the Creator’s design—whether the short-term trips of the puffin or the annual migration of the Arctic tern.
  • The website Ministry-to-Children.com interviewed Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, earlier in the month.
  • Quick quiz: who called our Creation Museum “so monumentally peculiar and sad . . . like a museum of science, but of course there’s no science in it”? The answer: actor Paul Bettany, who portrayed Charles Darwin in the film Creation, which hits U.S. theaters this Friday. Bettany visited our museum last June.

For more information: Get Answers

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