1. BBC News: “South African Fossils Could Be New Hominid Species

Is it time already for the announcement of yet another alleged “missing link”? Apparently so!

The nickname this time might be “Sediba,” short for the new designation Australopithecus sediba, although in this case there are actually two fossils. Scientists judged one to be a female adult and the other a younger male, perhaps mother and son. Two more individuals are buried close by and are currently being excavated. The bones were found near Johannesburg in South Africa.

The remains were discovered in a pit that was once part of a cave. BBC News reports that “[i]t is likely their bodies were then swept into an underground lake or pool, perhaps during a rainstorm” and later adds:

Their bones were laid down with the remains of other dead animals, including a sabre-toothed cat, antelope, mice, and rabbits. The fact that none of the bodies appear to have been scavenged indicates that all died suddenly and were entombed rapidly.

Commenting on the burial itself, team member Paul Dirks of James Cook University explained, “We think that there must have been some sort of calamity taking place at the time that caused all of these fossils to come down together into the cave where they got trapped and ultimately buried.”

The scientists disagree, however, on just what the individuals were. Despite their inclusion in genus Australopithecus (home to well-known “ape-man” Lucy), scientists such as Colin Groves of Australian National University believe the bones should be classified as Homo instead. Adding to the confusion is that evolutionists have dated the bones as younger than remains that have already been labeled Homo—which, were the dating right, would imply that the individuals discovered could not have been human ancestors.

Lead scientist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand offers what may be some clarification, however. First, he notes that the scientists have “pointed to certain similarities with early Homo, seeming even to admit that the predominance of its features were with Homo, only the small cranial capacity being really an Australopithecine feature.” In that regard, Berger points out the similarity to the Indonesian “hobbit” species, Homo floresiensis. We’ve argued before that the hobbit was likely fully human, and Berger’s comment suggests the Australopithecus sediba fossils may in fact be misclassified Homo individuals who were fully human.

Berger also reminds us that that portion of the fossil record “is one of the most poorly represented in the entire early hominid fossil record . . . a very small, very fragmentary record.” Of course, this portion coincides exactly with the time when apes were supposed to have evolved into men!

Creationists must be cautious interpreting news like this. For one thing, the bones have been examined by only one group of scientists, and their interpretation may be challenged dramatically by other evolutionists as time passes. (Recall the “missing link” hype—which quickly evaporated—over Ida.) Creationists, in particular, do not routinely have access to such finds until much time has passed, preventing an investigation based on the biblical perspective. Also, it is impossible for us to ever completely determine the full range of anatomical features in the original, pre-Flood human population. While some cases are fairly clear (e.g., Neanderthals), others are difficult considering the vague evidence that remains. What we must remember is that God created humans distinct from all animals: fashioning us in His image, not fashioning us from ape-like creatures. Despite the variation in size, shape, color, etc., (even if only considering the present), we are all equally human.

2. BBC News: “First Oxygen-Free Animals Found

For humans and other animals, oxygen is critical to survival. But for tiny jellyfish-like creatures living on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea, oxygen is nothing special.

A team led by Marche Polytechnic University’s Roberto Danovaro discovered three different types of organisms, all from the taxonomic group Loricifera, on multiple expeditions to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea’s L’Atalante basin. The sea floor lies more than 2 miles (3.5 km) beneath sea level, and consequently has virtually no oxygen.

The millimeter-size organisms have been classified as Spinoloricus, Rugiloricus, and Pliciloricus. They look similar to jellyfish, but inside a tiny shell, Danovaro said. Two of the species recovered contained eggs, implying the creatures can reproduce without oxygen; further, the eggs were incubated and hatched successfully in an oxygen-free environment.

“It is a real mystery how these creatures are able to live without oxygen because until now we thought only bacteria could do this. . . . We are talking about extreme conditions—full of salt, with no oxygen,” explained Danovaro. “We plan to go back and see if there are new surprises for us.”

Lisa Levin of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who was not involved with the research, noted, “Whether [the organisms] were overlooked or are exceedingly rare and thus not sampled is unclear. Perhaps scientists have been looking for them in all the wrong places.”

As we might have expected, Levin also suggested that the existence of the creatures points to the possibility of complex life existing on planets with atmospheres far different than earth’s. Creationists should instead view this discovery as another example of the range of the Creator’s designs intended to inhabit the wide and wonderful earth.

3. LiveScience: “Study Reveals How Creatures Get Spots vs. Stripes

Creationists often discuss how the species we see today descended from the original “created kinds.” But how did tigers end up with stripes while leopards got spots?

Understanding the underlying genetic mechanisms behind human and animal characteristics is crucial for properly distinguishing the idea of molecules-to-man evolution from intelligent design. Evolutionists claim that what amounts to genetic accidents can create new information—which then allows a population of creatures to, over time, use a new organ (e.g., the eye) or exhibit a new behavior (e.g., division of labor within a population). Creationists point out that the genetic accidents we observe frequently lead to the disappearance of useful function or merely a “rescrambling” of traits.

In a new paper in the journal Nature, a team of scientists looked at the genetics behind one sort of characteristics: spots, and in particular, spots on fruit flies. The researchers studied morphogens, which are a specific type of protein instructing cells to make pigment. They traced a particular morphogen that is connected with a gene called “Wingless.” As fruit flies develop, the Wingless gene encodes for morphogen, which later in development causes cells to produce the correct pigment.

What is perhaps the most interesting discovery is that the Wingless gene has previously been linked with striped pigmentation, indicating that the same genetic mechanism can yield either spots or stripes depending on other factors. The team then experimented, manipulating the fruit fly genome to create stripes in flies that would have otherwise had spots.

“We can make custom flies,” joked University of Wisconsin–Madison molecular biologist Sean Carroll, lead author on the paper. He continued,

What’s happened is that connection between Wingless and pigmentation has been exploited to make much fancier and obvious patterns. Once there is a tool, in this case a little pathway, for making pigmentation, using that pathway in new places gives you new patterns. Just deploy the wingless molecule in the wing and get a fancier pattern.

Carroll describes the natural process of shifting patterns as “evolution,” but we must disagree. While alterations in the Wingless gene can change a fly’s pigmentation, it can’t make a fly into an entirely different organism, which is the common, publicized meaning of “evolution.” Rather, the research reveals a sort of “horizontal” process whereby the characteristics of a fly are rescrambled but the fly gains no new information or biological machinery. It seems likely that similar mechanisms are at work in big cats and many other created kinds, helping explain how many different species could have descended from the original created kinds.

4. National Geographic News: “First African Amber Photos: Thunder Fly, Wasps, More

A huge hunk of amber entrapped dozens of arthropods, preserving them so that we can see them clearly today. But how old are they?

The answer, according to the scientists who describe the collection of creatures in the amber, is 95 million years. Publishing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers believe the amber reveals one segment of life during the time of the dinosaurs.

The trapped organisms include a variety of arthropods, including wasps, moths, beetles, spiders, an ant, and other creatures—most of which are familiar to us today, and look quite similar (see photos). Indeed, National Geographic News notes that “[t]he organisms date back to an evolutionary period when the types of insects that are common today first started appearing.”

Or could it be that the amber isn’t really from 95 million years ago—and the creatures look, on the whole, essentially the same as those today because there has been no progressive evolution since?

5. Fox News: “Knoxville Father Wants Biology Book Banned

A creationist in Tennessee wants a book “banned” from use in his local school district. What’s the argument?

Kurt Zimmermann learned of the book Asking About Life after his son encountered it in biology class. After learning of the book’s explicitly anti-creation position, Zimmermann asked that the school district discontinue its use.

According to Fox News, Zimmermann claims the book “misleads, belittles, and discourages students in believing in creationism.” Page 319 of the book specifically refers to “the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days.” While the school board initially denied Zimmermann’s request, it is now allowing an appeal to hear more thoughts from a school review committee that examined the book. “Education material that is offensive, intolerant, racist, or one-sided in nature should not be used in our school system,” Zimmerman argued.

On one hand, we’ve consistently argued that Christians should understand what the theory of evolution is all about. But on the other, the grounds for removing God from schools (not religion, mind you; Christianity has only been replaced with secular humanism) were the “separation of church and state.” A school textbook declaring outright that Genesis is a myth doesn’t seem to satisfy that criterion. Imagine the outcry if a biology textbook referred to “the biblical myth that the Judeo-Christian God came to earth as a man and was resurrected after death”!

If anything, this news is yet another reminder that Christians can’t simply assume their children will “figure it out” on their own when it comes to questions about origins. With much of the public school system in outright opposition to the biblical worldview, Christian parents must be on their guard and train up their children in the way they should go. We also encourage all Christian parents to seriously consider Christian school education or home school as an alternative.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • It’s no dinosaur, but the monitor lizard is among the animals living today that give us some small idea of what dinosaurs may have been like “in the flesh.” Now, scientists have discovered a new species of monitor in the Philippines.
  • Biological mimicry—when one creature imitates another in some way—is a fascinating example of some organisms’ sophisticated behavioral patterns. Some birds—perhaps we could call them “mocking” birds?—excel at such mimicry.
  • More evidence, albeit indirect, of dinosaur in-fighting that is occasionally captured in the fossil record.
  • The dominant creationist view of “ice ages” is that there was just one Ice Age that occurred shortly after the global Flood as the climate adjusted. While it’s certainly not the same model, other scientists recently proposed a similar flood-caused ice age around 13,000 years ago.

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