Paleontologists have recovered fossilized melanosomes (which are responsible for pigmentation in skin, fur, and feathers) from ancient birds and dinosaurs.
A team led by University of Bristol paleontologist Michael Benton reported in Nature on the finding and study of fossilized melanosomes. Taken from Cretaceous period fossils, the melanosomes would likely have originally given skin or feathers their distinctive hues.
For example, Benton’s team studied melanosomes from an ancient bird called Confuciusornis. By looking at the shape of the melanosomes, the scientists determined that Confuciusornis had both black-gray and reddish-brown pigmentation. They also studied Sinosauropteryx, a dinosaur that they claim had reddish-brown stripes on its tail.
More controversial is that the team believes Sinosauropteryx’s coloration was on what were thought to be feather-like “bristles.” According to Benton, discovering melanosomes proves that the bristles were indeed feathers: “We can now say for sure that these bristles are feathers,” he said, justifying the claim on the grounds that discovering organic matter from skin would be less likely. Benton also said, “Critics have said that these [bristles] could be shredded connective tissue. But the discovery of melanosomes within the bristles finally proves that some early dinosaurs were indeed feathered.”
ScienceNOW, however, quotes “longtime skeptic of dinosaur feathers” (and evolutionist) Alan Feduccia of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. Feduccia claims Benton’s team “make[s] a leap of faith going from Confuciusornis to Sinosauropteryx” and noted that the melanosomes could be from skin, not feathers, or that the melanosomes could even be misidentified bacteria.
While there’s no particular biblical reason for thinking dinosaurs didn’t have feathers, we remain cautious because the idea is most often presented in conjunction with the idea that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs. Both ideas are justified on scant or circumstantial evidence that ignores contradictory explanations (e.g., Feduccia’s suggestion that the “melanosomes” were bacteria) and problems with the dinosaur–bird evolution idea (e.g., as recounted in Birds Did Not Evolve from Dinosaurs, Say Evolutionists).
If Darwinian evolution is only half the story, does that mean creationists are fighting only half the battle?
Writer Mark Buchanan gives New Scientist readers a glimpse into what may one day be called the “Woese–Goldenfeld theory of evolution.” That may be a stretch, but for Woese and Goldenfeld—a microbiologist and physicist, respectively, at the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign—Darwinian evolution only explains a fraction of life’s history. Instead, they believe the “horizontal” role of horizontal gene transfer between individual cells (including single-celled organisms) is far more important than the “vertical” role of Darwinian evolution, in which organisms receive genes only from parents.
The scientists point out that because microorganisms (which engage in horizontal gene transfer) are thought to have been the exclusive form of life on earth for hundreds of millions of years, the main form of evolution for most of life’s history would have been horizontal. They argue that horizontal evolution explains the acquisition of a universal genetic code for life as well as a rapid increase in life’s complexity early on. Only after many life-forms became too complex for horizontal gene transfer did “vertical” Darwinian evolution take over.
The idea may sound far-fetched, but to at least some other biologists, it isn’t. “Their arguments make sense and their conclusion is very important. The process of evolution just isn’t what most evolutionary biologists think it is,” said York University biologist Jan Sapp. If widely accepted, the “horizontal evolution” argument could one day be a new front in the creation–evolution controversy.
While horizontal gene transfer is a fascinating biological mechanism that creationists have studied, the idea of horizontal evolution goes too far, mainly because it also cannot explain the origin of new genetic information—i.e., the object of horizontal gene transfer that would have enabled evolutionary “progress.” Furthermore, horizontal gene transfer cannot explain the origin of life or of life-forms complex enough to engage in reproduction or horizontal gene transfer, nor does it remove the many challenges Darwinian evolution would have faced after “taking over.”
Both bats and dolphins (a type of toothed whale) are known for their abilities to “echolocate,” or use sonar to capture prey. This capability, fascinating in its own right, shows that creationists can explain some things that evolutionists cannot.
In two studies recently published in Current Biology, scientists report that echolocation in bats and dolphins is not only similar in behavior, but also is astonishingly similar in its inner workings. On a molecular level, bats and dolphins share the same biological basis for echolocation—which poses a significant riddle for evolutionary explanations.
Generally, when two organisms share an anatomical or genetic feature, evolutionists explain it as the legacy of evolution. For example, humans and chimps are said to have so much in common (both anatomically and genetically) because, evolutionists claim, we descended from a common, ape-like ancestor that had those traits. Likewise, evolutionists frequently use alleged similarities between dinosaur fossils and modern birds to show that the two were evolutionary related.
This form of explanation runs into a wall when a feature is shared by two organisms that couldn’t have inherited the feature from a common ancestor—at least, not according to the evolutionary tree of life. In such cases (for example, the tusks of some mammals), evolutionists refer to the similarity as a case of parallel or “convergent” evolution. They believe similar natural pressures selected for the same mutative adaptations, resulting in the same feature in organisms not closely related (in evolutionary terms).
In the case of echolocation, however, the explanatory power of convergent evolution seems to come up short. Not only do both bats and dolphins echolocate, but the genetic mechanisms and mutations underlying the ability are nearly identical in both animals. Team member Stephen Rossiter of the University of London explained how surprising the discovery was:
“[I]t is generally assumed that most of these so-called convergent traits have arisen by different genes or different mutations. Our study shows that a complex trait—echolocation—has in fact evolved by identical genetic changes in bats and dolphins. We were surprised by the strength of support for convergence between these two groups of mammals and, related to this, by the sheer number of convergent changes in the coding DNA that we found.”
Given the unlikelihood of random mutations leading to sophisticated echolocative abilities just once, we find it beyond belief that both animals evolved the mechanism by chance—and identically, to boot. While some scientists outstretch evolution’s explanatory power with the idea of convergent evolution, creation scientists can appeal to the common Designer, who in wisdom would have repeatedly used design features in ways that confound evolutionists’ attempts at a perfect similarity-based tree of life.
Despite the ongoing lack of evidence for extraterrestrial life, one cofounder of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is far from giving up.
BBC News journalist and blogger Jonathan Amos spoke with Frank Drake, SETI cofounder and developer of the famous equation that bears his name, about the prospects for finding intelligent life. (The Drake equation attempts to quantify the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy through the use of several variables.) The occasion of the Amos–Drake conversation was the Royal Society’s “Detection of Extraterrestrial Life and the Consequences for Science and Society” conference, at which Royal Society president Lord Rees said the chances of discovering alien life now are better than ever.
Of course, Drake and others’ efforts to hear from those hypothetical civilizations—primarily by the use of radio telescopes—has, so far, turned up empty handed. His defense of the formerly government-funded project is that we’re searching only a fraction of our galaxy.
Drake also told Amos that alien civilizations might use technologies that are, well, “alien” to us and thus undetectable by our current means. For that reason, SETI recently began searching for laser pulses from alien civilizations. Drake also proposes permanent “beacons” broadcasting information about earth into space.
The search for extraterrestrial life (whether intelligent or simple) is thoroughly entwined with evolutionary ideas. For example, the values used in the Drake equation are based on beliefs about how long it took life to evolve on earth, how long it took for “intelligence” to evolve here, etc. Thus, the values are based more on dogma than on data—as is the entire search for alien life.
Running shoes probably seem like prudent athletic footwear for most of us. But as some African runners have shown, God’s original design is superior.
Harvard University evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman, described as an “avid runner,” was curious about how humans were able to run safely and comfortably before the modern invention of the running shoe. While measuring runners’ gaits both with and without shoes in both the U.S. and Kenya, Lieberman’s team observed a key difference in running behavior. Runners with shoes land on their heels, while barefoot runners land on the ball of their foot or flat on their foot—reducing the impact and keeping muscles flexed.
The scientists believe barefoot running may decrease the incidence of common running injuries by mitigating collision forces. Lieberman explained that landing on one’s heels “creates an impact; it’s like someone hitting your heel with a hammer with up to three times your body weight.” The only reason shod runners can maintain such an harsh gait is because of the cushioning in running shoes. Additional research by Stony Brook University’s William Jungers suggested that barefoot running is more efficient as well, taking advantage of energy buildup in the ankle and in the arch of the foot.
The scientists urge caution before runners who learned to run in shoes transition to barefoot running, however. Not only do muscles need time to stretch and adjust to the different gait, but the realities of running in urban and suburban environments—i.e., quite different from grass or soil—should be considered.
Lieberman’s research reminds us that, even factoring in the effects of the Curse, God’s original designs are always superior to human inventions in ways we may not first realize. And before the Curse, perhaps Adam and Eve would have run barefoot at up to 40 miles (64 km) per hour.
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