1. BBC News: “DNA Identifies New Ancient Human Dubbed ‘X-Woman’

Neanderthals, move over: there may have been another “human lineage” walking on earth in recent history, known only from an individual called “X-woman” (elsewhere reported as “Woman X”)

How recently X-woman walked, and whether her lineage was truly distinct from modern humans, depends greatly on one’s worldview, of course. For the scientists describing X-woman in the journal Nature, X-woman lived between thirty and fifty thousand years ago and represents a lineage that diverged from modern humans a million years ago.

X-woman was identified from a “tiny fragment” of finger bone found in a cave in Siberia. Interestingly, ornaments, including a bracelet, as well as tools “similar to those made by modern humans ” were found nearby. The researchers conducted genetic sequencing on the bone’s mitochondrial DNA, discovering that it differed from both “modern” humans’ and Neanderthals’. From those differences, the scientists inferred the “divergence date” of approximately one million years, twice as long ago as evolutionists believe Neanderthals split away from the modern human lineage.

For the evolutionary scientists, X-woman may represent an entirely new group of humans that emigrated from Africa. Team member Svante Paabo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology noted, “Whoever carried this mitochondrial genome out of Africa about a million years ago is some new creature that has not been on our radar screens so far.” The timing fails to fit in with evolutionary dating of other human lineages, such as Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis.

Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum suggests that X-woman may be linked to “certain enigmatic Asian fossils . . . which have been difficult to classify,” adding that “perhaps they do signal a greater complexity than we have appreciated up to now.” Stringer also wonders the extent of interaction between the various historical “lineages” of humans.

The creationist interpretation of X-woman is straightforward. First, keep in mind that the source for this study is only a tiny fragment of finger bone. While this does not mean that the genetic study was flawed, it does remind us that X-woman may have looked identical to a “modern” woman, for all we know. Second, the tools and bracelet indicate that X-woman and her peers were intelligent, skilled humans, not primitive apemen. We have every reason, based on this finding, to believe that whatever her genetic makeup, X-woman was as human as we are.

Furthermore, we are skeptical of both the dating of the evolutionary “divergence” of X-woman’s kin from modern humans and Neanderthals—and of the archaeological dating of X-woman’s finger bone. As with Neanderthals and likely Homo erectus, the evidence suggests that were these humans living today, they would blend in with modern society without incident.

While evolutionists plan to conduct further genetic analysis of X-woman’s finger bone and have not yet come to a conclusion about her kin, it is clear that evolutionists are open to the idea of a diversity of human people groups, with perhaps some skeletal variation but otherwise with equivalent intellectual and social capabilities, sharing the planet at the same time in history. Creationists propose the same world, albeit with a totally different timescale. All of humanity descends from Adam, made in the image of God; while not all variation in the human kind has survived until present, our late kin (assuming X-woman does represent human variation no longer present on earth) was every bit as human as we are.

2. BBC News: “Dinosaurs’ Dominance ‘Helped by Mass Volcanism’

While the well-known tale is that one kind of catastrophe drove the dinosaurs extinct, new research suggests another kind of catastrophe may have given them a leg up.

Scientists reporting in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that extensive volcanic activity may have helped dinosaurs become the dominant life-form on earth. The research links volcanoes to climatic changes that may have driven dinosaurs’ competitors extinct—much as a meteorite impact supposedly did to dinosaurs themselves millions of years later.

The basis for the study was geologic evidence said to be some 200 million years old, including preserved lava flows and plant material embedded in rocks. The flows show a fluctuation in carbon isotopes, which the scientists interpret as a sign of global climate change and extensive greenhouse-style warming. In their study, the scientist match this fluctuation (and the climate change they infer) with an extinction event thought to have killed half of all tetrapods and land plants at the time.

Brown University geologist Jessica Whiteside, lead author on the paper, explained, “We are showing that these events are synchronous with the extinction and that the events all occur within a few tens of thousands of years of the eruption of these huge lava flows.” However, the team does not know why such intense volcanic activity would have so devastated dinosaurs’ competitors but not dinosaurs.

Creationists consider the sediments studied by Whiteside’s team (i.e., Triassic sediments) to date from the catastrophic Flood year. This fits with what we know about the geological havoc wreaked on the earth that year: not only massive hydrological activity, but also extensive tectonic and volcanic events that would have had both immediate and long-lasting effects on the climate.

The creationist interpretation differs, however, in that the fossils do not indicate “extinction” (because all kinds were present on the Ark), but rather extensive death “only.” And what evolutionists interpret as dinosaurs’ appearance in “more recent” sediments (vis-à-vis the organisms thought to have become extinct), creationists instead credit to hydrologic and ecological factors. In creationists’ eyes, the volcanic activity, the climate change, and the record of death are all signs of the global Flood—and, ultimately, of God’s judgment of mankind’s wickedness.

3. LiveScience: “Dinosaur Buried Alive By Collapsing Sand Dune

For one dinosaur walking in what is now Utah, a collapsing sand dune brought death. For the scientists who unearthed that dinosaur, the sand dune brought remarkable preservation.

The nearly complete Seitaad ruessi fossil was discovered several years ago in Utah. After its discovery, the University of Utah’s Joseph Sertich and Mark Loewen of the Utah Museum of Natural History worked to extricate the fossil from the surrounding rock, and now describe the find in the journal PLoS One.

The fossil is intact except for its head and parts of the neck and tail, which the researchers believe eroded away in the years since burial. Originally standing just 3 ft (1 m) tall, the dinosaur, which was related to larger sauropods, is thought to have been herbivorous. Interesting, however, is that the dinosaur sported a large, menacing claw despite its diet. It therefore seems that evolutionists have the same “problem” as creationists: accounting for sharp features on creatures that did not eat meat. (Creationists have answered this problem, however; see the links below.)

As for the dinosaur’s sudden burial and remarkable preservation, the scientists refer to seasonal rainstorms that could have infilled the low spots between sand dunes. Or was this dinosaur’s fate sealed by a rainfall that lasted forty days, preserving a sea of sand as a sedimentary graveyard?

4. The Guardian: “Why Everything You’ve Been Told about Evolution Is Wrong

Think evolution has anything to do with Charles Darwin? If so, you’re apparently wrong, if the Guardian’s provocative headline is taken literally.

The headline is idiomatic, of course, but the story nevertheless reminds readers of recent twists in evolutionists’ understandings of how “evolution” works. After a rapid-fire bashing of creationists for two arguments we don’t even use, author Oliver Burkeman (who calls us “deluded or dishonest”) gets down to discussing the details of what’s “wrong” with the popular understanding of evolution.

In short, what’s wrong is the idea that an organism inherits only unmodified genetic information from its parents—at least, unmodified with the exception of mutations. Contesting that view was a study of chickens conducted at the University of Linköping, which Burkeman describes.

The researchers observed that chickens placed in a stressful situation were less capable of navigating a maze for hidden food than their unstressed peers—which is not particularly surprising. What the scientists did not expect came after the chickens were returned to their normal, unstressed environment, where the chickens

conceived and hatched chicks who were raised without stress—and yet these chicks, too, demonstrated unexpectedly poor skills at finding food in a maze. They appeared to have inherited a problem that had been induced in their mothers through the environment. Further research established that the inherited change had altered the chicks’ “gene expression”—the way certain genes are turned “on” or “off,” bestowing any given animal with specific traits.

Burkeman goes on to review other similar studies that indicate that there’s more to “evolution” than genes. Rather, it seems there is an important role for the “epigenome, the protective package of proteins around which genetic material—strands of DNA—is wrapped.” He continues:

The epigenome plays a crucial role in determining which genes actually express themselves in a creature’s traits: in effect, it switches certain genes on or off, or turns them up or down in intensity. It isn’t news that the environment can alter the epigenome; what’s news is that those changes can be inherited.

As Burkeman fairly points out, such findings distort the nature–nurture dichotomy. (The article also covers several other topics that we have omitted here; one we mention in passing is the research of Carl Woese and Nigel Goldenfeld we covered in January.)

The creationist conclusion is that such findings aren’t really about evolution, in the Darwinian sense. Darwinian evolution goes beyond the topic of how life-forms change over time (something scientists can observe and experiment on) to positing that all life shares common ancestry. Studies such as the chicken experiment Burkeman reviews say nothing about the plausibility or historicity of Darwinian evolution; they only show that God has programmed even more adaptive ability into organisms than was previously believed.

5. USA Today: “Smithsonian Human Origins Exhibit Elicits Awe, Protests

The creation opposition to a new Smithsonian exhibition has been greatly exaggerated.

USA Today reports on protests at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History this week on the opening of the new “Hall of Human Origins” exhibit. But, as opposed to what one might expect, the dissidents were booing skepticism over human-caused global warming.

“The [museum] guards told us they were expecting creationists,” said Kert Davies of Greenpeace, who noted he did not oppose the exhibit or museum itself. The protestors’ concern instead lay with the financing of the nearly $21 million exhibit. Among the funders was billionaire David Koch, whom USA Today describes as “prominent in circles opposing regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Despite the apparent lack of creationist outrage, USA Today quoted Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham, who said of the new exhibit, “I haven’t really paid too much attention to it,” then quipped, “I’m amused how much the exhibit cost. We built a whole museum for that much.”

As Ham has noted elsewhere, what is ironic is that, despite all the worry, creationists have little to say about, nor bother protesting at, the dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of evolution-centered natural museums in the U.S. and elsewhere. The Creation Museum, on the other hand, one of a very few creation-centered museums in the world (which exist without public financing, massive corporate donations, etc.), has received not only widespread condemnation from evolutionists, but also saw protests on opening day. Based on that, which group seems more committed to free speech and open discussion?

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • It may not have the same ring as Velociraptor, but the newly discovered, closely related Linheraptor—identified from an “exquisitely well preserved skeleton”—was probably not the best creature to keep as a casual pet.
  • Is it rapid evolution, or rapid natural selection? The findings of a new study on pygmy grasshoppers is yet another reminder that characteristics in an animal (or plant, etc.) population can change quite rapidly. But grasshoppers still remain grasshoppers; the changes do not increase the genetic information in the grasshopper genome.
  • Great apes “know they can be wrong,” according to a study at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. In the study, apes seemed to engage in “thinking about thinking” by double-checking their initial hunches in situations of uncertainty.
  • Is our universe only one of many, a claim sometimes invoked to explain the appearance of design in the earth’s privileged location? Or could it be that the scientists making the speculation, like all of us, simply have a lot to learn about the physics and composition of the universe around us?
  • Imagine having color vision that works five times faster. That’s what it may be like to for bumblebees, whose amazing vision allows them to quickly discern the right flowers from a mass of color while flying around at top speed.
  • We discussed the latest on the Large Hadron Collider earlier this month, and now BBC News reports that physicists are ready (again) to use the collider to try to find the elusive “God particle.” For more on what that’s all about, see In Search of God.
  • This year’s winner of the $1.5 million Templeton Prize for “ exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension” is an evolutionist and former priest. See our front-page web article today.
  • Does our Creation Museum teach that “all living species were created as we see them today”? The correct answer is no, but it’s what we were apparently accused of in a Cornell University lecture.

For more information: Get Answers

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