1. PhysOrg: “New Book Examines the Flawed Human Body

Evolutionists often point to apparent flaws in human design to ridicule the notion of “intelligent design.” Now, the author of a new book on “design flaws” in humans offers his perspective.

University of California–Irvine evolutionary biologist John Avise is author of Inside the Human Genome, which a press release touts as “explor[ing] the many deficiencies of human DNA while recapping recent findings about the human genome.” While opponents of intelligent design have used human anatomical flaws (real and imagined) to attack the case for design, Avise points to genetic deficiencies.

“We now know that the human genome is riddled with molecular defects of many sorts,” Avise explained in a syndicated interview. He then took aim at intelligent design:

“Proponents of intelligent design understandably focus on the many beauties of life . . . [h]owever, natural selection in conjunction with genetic processes can also produce complex biological systems that usually function well. So both natural selection and intelligent design are consistent with the appearance of biological craftsmanship. Serious biological imperfections, on the other hand, can only logically be expected of nonsentient evolutionary processes . . . .”

Avise is partially right and partially wrong. While it’s true that, theoretically, both natural selection and intelligent design can explain complex systems, information-adding genetic mutations would be required for natural-selection–driven evolution to “create” features that appear to be designed. Such information-adding genetic mutations have never been observed, however. Furthermore, biological imperfections are quite consistent with a “post-Fall” world. God created life perfectly, but the effects of the Curse—especially destructive genetic mutations and disease—have partially obscured the original perfect creation with “biological imperfections.” For these reasons, we contend that a combination of “intelligent design” plus a genuine, historical Fall can explain our impressive-but-imperfect biology.

Next, Avise offered his opinions on why “theologians should welcome evolutionary discoveries”:

“With respect to biological imperfections, evolution can emancipate religion from the shackles of theodicy. No longer need we feel tempted to blaspheme an omnipotent deity by making him directly responsible for human frailties and physical shortcomings, including those we now know to be commonplace at the molecular and biochemical levels. . . . Instead, we can put the blame for biological flaws squarely on the shoulders of evolutionary processes.”

There are two key problems with blaming biological imperfections on evolution rather than on God (as Avise insinuates non-evolutionists must do). First is the problem pointed out above: that evolution cannot actually explain design credibly. And, if there is a god who “uses” evolution in His creative process, it would be unfair to blameshift. Second, however, is that Bible-believing creationists don’t blame imperfections on God at all! As we wrote above, such imperfections are due to the Curse, which was the consequence of human sin (Genesis 3). Only by understanding Genesis can we understand both the marvels of God’s originally perfect design and the true source of biological imperfections—including death.

A final note on why Avise’s views are problematic. In the interview’s conclusion, he quotes Dobzhansky’s famous line that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” then adds, “Evolution, genetics, and ecology are central to so many areas—not only in biology but also in countless human affairs ranging from religion to medicine to environmental issues.” He thus reminds us that evolution is an invasive worldview—let it in only a little and it will remake your views on everything from biology to morality.

2. BBC News: “Space Rock Contains Organic Molecular Feast

A meteorite said to be billions of years old contains molecules that include carbon atoms. Is it therefore proof that life on earth could have been seeded from space?

The so-called Murchison meteorite, which crashed into Australia in 1969, has been an object of interest to scientists for decades. In June 2008, we reported that a team studying the meteorite had discovered “components of RNA and DNA” in the rock, exciting those who believe life exists beyond earth.

A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined more of the molecular structure of the meteorite. By using mass spectrometry on a sample and extrapolating based on previous studies, the scientists identified 14,000 different compounds. Many include carbon and are therefore deemed “organic,” as carbon is central to all known life.

Team leader Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin of the Institute for Ecological Chemistry commented, “Having this information means you can tell what was happening during the birth of the solar system. Meteorites are like some kind of fossil. When you try to understand them you are looking back in time.”

Like fossils, however, meteorites are subject to interpretation. That this meteorite contains carbon proves only that this meteorite contains carbon; evolutionists have no clear answer to how lifeless molecules could have self-organized into reproducing life. Likewise, the idea that the Murchison meteorite dates from the beginning of the solar system (i.e., billions of years ago, according to evolutionists), is speculation built on uniformitarian presuppositions.

3. PhysOrg: “Protein Study Shows Evolutionary Link between Plants, Humans

Creationists argue that similarities between humans and apes aren’t due to evolution. What about similarities between humans and plants?

Purdue University horticulturalist Wendy Peer, experimenting on Arabidopsis plants, discovered that she could restore dying plants by inserting a protein found in humans. Plants missing the aminopeptidase M1 protein (APM1) will fail to develop roots properly and will soon die. The human insulin responsive aminopeptidase (IRAP) protein, however, met the plants’ needs and restored root development.

Peer interprets the similarity as evidence of a shared evolutionary lineage: “APM1 and IRAP are in the same group. [APM1] activity is such a fundamental process that it’s been conserved evolutionarily. This protein has changed very little over time.”

In humans, malfunction of these proteins is associated with cancer development. In plants, however, their function is not fully understood. Is there an evolutionary connection? Does protein similarity prove that humans and Arabidopsis plants shared a common ancestor?

That conclusion is certainly not logically necessary. Similarities can just as easily, or even more easily, be evidence of common design; God re-used certain designs, even in organisms not considered to be close evolutionary relatives. Considering the millions of years of evolution that would have separated Arabidopsis and humans from their supposed common ancestor, common design is a much more plausible answer.

For more information:

4. BBC News: “The Truth Behind Elephant Brainpower

In previous editions of News to Note, we’ve frequently reported on the high intelligence of crows. Now, it’s elephants’ turn again.

Researchers studying elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park have come to a surprising, though tentative, theory: elephants may be able to distinguish between different human languages. The researchers have also tested the elephants’ performance at such tasks as counting lions, identifying peers’ voices, and whether they know the age of other elephants.

In one test, University of Sussex animal psychologist Karen McComb used a loudspeaker to play the same type of elephant call to an elephant matriarch. McComb calculated that these matriarchs are able to identify at least 100 other individual elephants by their calls.

The scientists also suspect, based on anecdotal observation, that the elephants in the park may be able to distinguish between three human languages they regularly hear: Maa (spoken by local herders), the language of the local Kamba people, and English (spoken by tourists). The elephants occasionally clash with Maa speakers, who hunt elephants known to have killed their cattle or tribesmen. English-speaking tourists, on the other hand, present little threat to the elephants. The researchers’ hypothesis is that elephants will become agitated and nervous when listening to recordings of Maa being spoken, which is the basis for a new intelligence test.

Commenting on both the latest research, as well as studies we have previously reported on (such as in September 2008), St. Andrew’s University evolutionary psychologist Dick Byrne said,

“[Elephants have] proved to have abilities which have only been found elsewhere in the great apes and humans. We are a bit limited by how little we know about elephants, but the odd glimmers we get seem to be rather remarkable. Their abilities didn’t seem to be limited in quite the same way as monkeys, apes, and children would be.”

Because evolutionists frequently imply that similarities in human and ape intelligence and behavior are evidence of evolution (ScienceDaily provides a current example), examples of impressive animal intelligence, such as in elephants, counters the evolutionary perspective. God gave many animals sophisticated mental abilities, but no animals were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).

For more information:

5. ScienceNOW: “What Doesn't Kill Microbes, Makes Them Stronger

New research into how microbial resistance to antibiotics comes about sheds light on the process that is frequently called “evolution.” Will creationists have to change their tune?

Research led by Harvard University biologist James Collins investigated a process whereby antibiotics trigger the release of “reactive oxygen species” (ROS, a.k.a. free radicals) inside infectious microbes, causing mutations in their DNA that can lead to antibiotic resistance. This process is thought to be separate from the usual view of antibiotic resistance, whereby microbes that are already resistant to antibiotics survive while others die, giving the appearance that the population has evolved a new trait. Creationists point out that no new genetic information has appeared, making the process quite different from the usual portrayal of “evolution.”

Hypermutability, as it’s called, occurs when microbes are exposed to antibiotics that trigger the production of free radicals. In sufficient concentrations, the resulting mutations are so severe that the entire microbe population is killed—i.e., the antibiotic is successful. But what about dangerous but less-than-lethal doses of antibiotics? Could this hypermutability result in mutations that render the microbes resistant without killing them?

Collins’ team tested the hypothesis by treating E. coil with low levels of common antibiotics. The researchers observed up to eight times the number of mutations in the bacteria, with the resulting populations resistant to not only the antibiotics they were exposed to, but others as well.

ScienceNOW spoke with Baylor University molecular geneticist Susan Rosenberg, who noted that “antibiotics aren’t just selecting certain mutations, but causing them” (in the report’s words). However, the news does not contradict creationists’ point that no new genetic information is present in resistant microbe populations. Even if the mutations causing resistance are occurring after the exposure to antibiotics, previous research suggests the mutations are nonetheless information-destroying. This is evidenced by the fact that resistant populations are generally less biologically fit than non-resistant populations, indicating that the microbes pay a heavy genetic price for becoming resistant.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Although we prefer reporting on the successes and advantages of non-embryonic stem cells, recent research reveals one way in which non-embryonic stem cells are more difficult to work with than embryonic stem cells. But what’s encouraging is the researchers’ attitude toward improving inferior aspects of generating non-embryonic stem cells, which offer proven medical benefits that don’t require discarding unborn human lives.
  • Tigers and snow leopards are more closely related to each other than to other big cats, a recent genetic study suggests. Although the scientists’ old-earth timeline is off, the genetic similarities may indeed suggest that snow leopards and tigers diverged earlier from the post-Ark big cat population, leaving jaguars, lions, and leopards to speciate later.
  • The politics of school financing isn’t a topic Answers in Genesis would normally comment on, but apparently it’s now grounds for attacking creation. BBC News quotes British politician Michael Gove, who attempted to anticipate criticism of his school-funding plan by insisting that “you cannot have a school which teaches creationism and one thing that we will make absolutely clear is that you cannot have schools which are set up, which teach people things which are clearly at variance with what we know to be scientific fact.” Perhaps that’s no surprise in itself, but creation education was apparently lumped with “extremist organisations, or people who have a dark agenda,” along with teaching that “undermines our democratic values.”
  • Are coral reefs like time capsules, dating back tens or hundreds of thousands of years? It all depends on the rate of reef growth, of course.
  • Last weekend was yet another “Evolution Weekend,” described by The Age as a day when “Darwin will share the praise with the Almighty.” The minister in one of the eight Australian churches that hosted the event claimed, “Darwin and the biblical accounts are in no way incompatible”—may we emend that to “in every way”?
  • OneNewsNow reports on the evangelistic team Answers in Genesis is fielding at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
  • If you didn’t enjoy the mocking Vanity Fair article on our Creation Museum last month (read our brief response), chances are you won’t enjoy Creation Museum coverage with a similar tone from the website companion to Intelligent Life magazine. Despite the magazine’s name, though, the article gets tripped up on several basic points (not to mention the substantive issues)—for example, the author mistakenly lists Answers in Genesis astronomer Jason Lisle as “Jim Lisle,” for instance.

For more information: Get Answers

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