1. ScienceNOW: “Small Dogs Evolved in Middle East

You may not have been asking, but some scientists think they have the answer to where small dogs “evolved.”

Creationists and evolutionists agree that dogs descend from ancestors shared by modern wolves. Genetic evidence confirms that view, although evolutionists view this as an example of “evolution” from one creature into another—whereas creationists see it as an example of speciation from the original “dog” kind.

Scientists sampled a variety of dogs, both large and small breeds, as well as wolves, foxes, and coyotes to gather genetic data from the insulin-like growth factor 1 gene (IGF1). After analysis, the team learned that the IGF1 variant in all small dogs is rarely found in large dogs and more rarely still in wolves, foxes, or coyotes—which is little surprise, since the gene’s form is associated with the dog’s skeletal size.

Unexpectedly, however, gray wolves from the Middle East carry a form of IGF1 very similar to that found in small dogs. This suggests to the researchers that the “common ancestor” to the world’s small dogs was probably from the Middle East, since (they conclude) it is unlikely small dogs evolved more than once. The scientists speculate that humans may have bred small dogs because they were easier to house and feed in early farming communities.

The data can be explained equally well by the creation worldview. After members of the dog kind disembarked the Ark and began to multiply, many would have stayed with humans at Babel and after the dispersion, becoming domesticated over times; these are what we call “dogs,” while the undomesticated members of the dog kind were the ancestors of today’s wolves, coyotes, etc. The data indicate that the first “wave” of domestication as humans spread across the globe produced large breeds. Separately, one dog with a variant IGF1 gene gave rise to a population of canines, some of which stayed wild and speciated into what we know as the modern gray wolf; the others were domesticated and bred to be small dogs.

2. National Geographic News: “Star ‘Eating’ Superhot Planet’s Atmosphere

Pity poor planet WASP-12b: its host star not only heats it to more than 4,700˚F (2600˚C), but also is in the process of eating it.

We first reported on WASP-12b in October 2008, when astronomers reported that the huge planet (six times larger than Jupiter) is so close to its host star, it orbits it every 26 hours. And because of the planet’s strange orbit, the star’s gravity acting on the planet generates a phenomenon called tidal heating. Together, this raises the temperature of the planet’s surface to more than 4,700˚F (2600˚C).

Furthermore, a team of astronomers now reports that the heat is puffing up WASP-12b’s atmosphere so much that some of it escapes. The astronomers suggest this escaping gas may be pulled toward the star, resulting in a hot ring around the star—giving the impression of the star eating the planet. The team estimates the ring would be even hotter than the planet, ranging up to 7,232˚F (4000˚C).

Team member Jonathan Fortney, an astronomer at the University of California–Santa Cruz, explained, “We have not seen any evidence of this, but we’re suggesting that observers should look for this disk.”

Although scientists will now have to look for evidence of the disk to support the team’s hypothesis, we may have learned another fascinating fact in this exoplanetary vignette. Amazing are not only the extremes of WASP-12b (as with so many regions of space), but also how that planet reminds us of the special habitability of Earth.

3. On animal intelligence

Several news stories this week examine aspects of various animals’ surprising levels of intelligence—though this shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular News to Note readers, considering our frequent coverage of this fascinating topic. The animals included here are no surprise, however: dolphins, chimps, crows, elephants, and whales, all animals already renowned for their smarts.

ScienceNOW: “Is a Dolphin a Person?

A conversation on dolphin intelligence—and whether dolphins deserve special rights—caused animated discussion at a session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. Among the discussants was Emory University neuroanatomist Lori Marino, one of those arguing in favor of special treatment for dolphins.

Marino argued that studies of the dolphin brain justify giving dolphins a special status. Dolphins have the second biggest brain-to-body-weight ratio of any creature (the first being humans), along with a highly complex neocortex. City University of New York cognitive psychologist Diana Reiss, another discussant, reviewed previous experiments that suggest dolphins are as intelligent as great apes and perhaps even young children.

Even while we appreciate the intelligence God gave dolphins and marvel at their capabilities, we should remember that humans are different from animals in one important way: we were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). While we can discuss animal intelligence and what it implies about appropriate animal treatment, even the smartest animals are qualitatively different from humans. Likewise, in this and in the animal intelligence stories that follow, we remember that God created many different kinds of animals that are highly intelligent. Animal cleverness isn’t limited to primates, nor is it a legacy of evolution.

BBC News: “Chimps Are Intelligent Enough to Appreciate a Full Pint

Chimpanzees are able to distinguish between more and less of a continuous amount of something, such as water or juice, according to new research led by Georgia State University psychologist Michael Beran. This ability is a greater indication of intelligence than the ability to distinguish between discrete numbers of objects, such as individual pieces of fruit. Furthermore, it shows that chimps have some rudimentary understanding of the physics of liquids, BBC News reports.

Beran tested three chimps each in three experiments, progressively more difficult, to gauge their ability to compare quantities of fruit juice. In the first experiment, Beran used a syringe to pour fruit juice into two cups, one clear but the other solid. Afterwards, the chimps chose a cup to drink from. Even as Beran varied the amount of fruit juice poured into each cup—and even though the chimps could not observe the quantity of juice inside the solid cup—the chimps chose the cup with more juice in it more than three-quarters of the time.

In a second experiment, the clear cup was already filled with a certain amount of juice, and Beran filled only the solid cup from the syringe as the chimps watched. Beran explained, “This is a [more] complicated feat because there are no cues such as duration of pouring or height of the liquid that can be used.” Yet the chimps were still able to determine which cup contained more juice most of the time. In the final experiment, Beran played with the height from which he poured the juice, attempting to fool the chimps. Still, the chimps successfully chose the largest quantity more than eighty percent of the time.

ScienceNOW: “Is That a Caveman or Dick Cheney? Crows Know the Difference

We have covered the intellectual capabilities of crows before, and researchers continue experimenting to determine just how clever they are. University of Washington–Seattle ecologist John Marzluff undertook a study to learn more about crows’ ability to recognize individual people.

Over a period of several years, Marzluff and other researchers used masks to test a large crow population. At five different Seattle-area sites, the scientists nonchalantly walked by crows while wearing one of several rubber masks, recording the crows’ response. Weeks after, one researcher, wearing a specific mask nicknamed “the caveman,” trapped and marked some of the crows. For years later, the scientists continued visiting the sites wearing the full range of masks or wearing no mask at all, but continuing to record the crows’ reaction.

The results show that crows “don’t forget the face of the person who trapped them,” ScienceNOW reports. Typically, less than five percent of crows scold the ordinary passer-by, including those wearing most of the masks or no mask at all. But after the trapping incident, up to two-thirds of the crows would “become upset” upon seeing the caveman mask and would “start scolding, mobbing, and dive-bombing the wearer.” What’s more, the researchers controlled for factors like height, weight, gender, etc., showing that the crows indeed perceived the face itself as representing hostility.

Marzluff has been continuing the experiment, and notes (perhaps humorously), “It’s remarkable . . . it’s been four years now, but they see that mask and still go crazy.”

BBC News: “Elephant ‘Secret Language’ Clues

Even standing right next to an elephant, a human could not hear the full elephant “language,” report researchers at the San Diego Zoo, because elephants communicate using sounds that the human ear can hardly pick up. But these elephant “growls” appear to be extremely important in communication between the animals.

Using a low-frequency microphone and a GPS tracking system, zoo researchers “listened” to eight female elephants over time and then attempted to match up the noises with variations in elephant behavior. A key discovery is that pregnant females likely use a particular growl near the end of their pregnancy to “announce” the impending birth. Researchers believe the call also serves to ask other elephants to look out for predators that could threaten the calf.

Project leader Matt Anderson noted, “We’re excited to learn of the hierarchy within the female herd and how they interact and intercede with one another.” Interestingly, we learned last week that elephants may be able to distinguish between different human languages. It seems humans can return the favor!

BBC News: “Sperm Whale Groups ‘May Corral Deep Squid’

When one thinks of animals hunting in packs, wolves or big cats frequently come to mind. New research suggests that sperm whales may be group hunters, based on electronic tracking of the whales in the Gulf of Mexico.

GPS tracking allowed scientists to indirectly observe a group of whales as they explored the gulf and made squid-hunting dives some 3,300 ft. (1000 m) deep. Although the scientists aren’t sure what the whales were doing, Hatfield Marine Science Center expert Bruce Mate explained, “We can see that they’re actually changing their role over time. And we’re speculating that the animals are herding a ball of squid.” Each time, some whales guarded the perimeter while others dove through the center of a “bait ball,” thought to be taking turns eating. “It may be that each individual takes it in turns to do the most physiologically demanding task—the deep dive,” Mate said.

While one researcher is cautious of the conclusion, Mate defends it based on evidence that dolphins behave similarly. Such dolphin hunting has been caught on film, however.

For more information:

4. LiveScience: “Gulp! Long-Necked Dinosaurs Didn’t Bother Chewing

Four dinosaur skulls recovered from Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument reveal Abydosaurus mcintoshi, a huge sauropod dinosaur thought to have swallowed its meals whole.

University of Michigan dinosaur expert Jeffrey Wilson explained the reason scientists think sauropods may have swallowed food whole: “If you have a tiny skull and you’re trying to feed a big body, you’re wasting time if you’re trying to process the food in your mouth.”

Unlike many other plant-eating dinosaurs, sauropods do not appear to have had specialized equipment for chewing plant material. Triceratops and some other dinosaurs had pointed “beaks,” for example, which helped cut vegetation. Instead, sauropods like Abydosaurus had relatively narrow teeth, apparently not suited for extensive chewing.

Brigham Young University paleontologist Brooks Britt, one member of the study, commented, “They didn’t chew their food; they just grabbed it and swallowed it.

Interpreting dinosaur behavior from fossils is a challenging endeavor, and necessarily involves at least some assumptions. For example, it’s possible if scientists could go back in time to observe sauropod feeding behavior, they would see an unexpected behavioral or anatomical element that allowed them to chew their food. Similarly, presuppositions are required when evolutionary scientists infer that some dinosaurs’ frightening teeth were originally used to eat flesh (whereas the Bible indicates that no creatures ate meat originally). In addition to changes that could have happened at the Fall and after, such conclusions ignore the fact that without being there, we can’t say for sure. And when the Bible says otherwise, we can trust God’s firsthand account.

5. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Harvard scientists have shown how a few mathematical rules may be responsible for all the variation in the beaks of Darwin’s finches. This simplicity eases the birds’ ability to adapt and shows how relatively straightforward genetic variation can cause a wide range of morphological variation.
  • In Israel, a politician responsible for education has insisted that a governmental chief scientist’s views on evolution and global warming are “unacceptable.” The reason for the scientist’s censure? He spoke out against the dogmatic teaching of both.
  • Giant frogs and menacing crocodiles, while said to date from different time periods, both give us an idea of the wondrous and often fearsome creatures our human ancestors would have had to deal with before—and perhaps after—the Flood.
  • LiveScience provides an interesting overview of a molecular motor that functions inside the body’s cells, working as a tiny seesaw—which creationists and evolutionists agree is a great example of “design,” whether intelligent or not!
  • A Hebrew University archaeologist has unearthed what may be another physical remnant of biblical accounts: an ancient Jerusalem wall, which the archaeologist matches with the wall described in 1 Kings 3:1.
  • Two sources you might not expect to present views quite similar to Answers in Genesis’s nonetheless did so this week: in the New York Times, Stanley Fish argues that even “secular” decision-making presupposes certain (religious) values, and for National Public Radio, Christopher Joyce documents how presupposed beliefs may determine one’s views on science.
  • A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that according to most measures, American “Millennials” (those born after 1980) are “considerably less religious than older Americans”—even compared to earlier generations’ when they were equivalent in age.

For more information: Get Answers


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