1. National Geographic News: “‘Lucy’ Kin Pushes Back Evolution of Upright Walking?

He’s the new “big man” of human evolution: Kadanuumuu, a purported relative of famous ape-woman Lucy.

The fossil hominid was found in 2005 in Ethiopia, and received its nickname thanks to its height: between 5 and 5.5 feet (1.5–1.8 m). That’s relatively tall compared to Lucy, believed to be an ancestor of Kadanuumuu, who stood around 3.5 feet (1.1 m). According to the scientists describing the fossil in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Kadanuumuu is an Australopithecus afarensis, like Lucy; however, the “big man” is dated older than Lucy, at 3.6 million years. (The find has also been nicknamed “Lucy’s great-grandfather.”)

But there’s a twist: Kadanuumuu’s skeletal features are unexpectedly similar to those of modern humans, according to Cleveland Museum of Natural History curator of physical anthropology Yohannes Haile-Selassie. “We can now confidently say that ‘Lucy’ and her relatives were almost as proficient as we are walking on two legs,” said Haile-Selassie. “The elongation of our legs came earlier in our evolution than previously thought.”

Additionally, Kadanuumuu’s shoulder blade is not as ape-like as the scientists expected. “Most scientists presumed that our ancestors’ shoulders were more like those of chimpanzees,” explained Haile-Selassie. Instead, Kadanuumuu’s shoulder blades are quite different from modern apes’. Based on that, the scientists conclude that Kadanuumuu and Lucy were no better at swinging in trees as modern humans are. “Its anatomy wouldn’t allow it to be [primarily] a tree-climber, as claimed by some people,” noted Haile-Selassie; on the other hand, “[Kadanuumuu] could actually stand on one leg and keep its balance[,] something chimpanzees cannot do.”

Disagreeing with Haile-Selassie is California Academy of Sciences anthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged, who discovered the fossil nicknamed Selam considered a juvenile A. afarensis. (We reported on this discovery in September 2006.) He argues that the limited remains of Kadanuumuu mean scientists cannot be certain what species it is, and that differences with Lucy and Selam show Kadanuumuu to be something other than A. afarensis. (ScienceNOW reports that the find is only forty percent complete—and lacks a head.)

The debate underscores one of the biggest problems with forming grand conclusions from fossil hominids: most of the fossils are woefully incomplete, with guesswork and presupposition-soaked interpretations filling in the gaps (a problem that ultimately obstructs both evolutionist and creationist study of the fossils). As a consequence, it’s no surprise that Lucy, Selam, and Kadanuumuu’s features may seem incompatible—they may not be the same species after all; indeed, it may be that, e.g., one is a true human while the others are not.

Given Kadanuumuu’s missing bones (especially his head) and the fact that most mainstream researchers—let alone creationists—have not yet studied the find up close, it’s difficult to draw any clear conclusions about whether Kadanuumuu was human or ape, or whether it was indeed a relative of Lucy or not. Based on Haile-Selassie’s endorsement of the similarity between Kadanuumuu and modern humans, along with creationists’ general skepticism over Lucy’s humanity, we are inclined to consider Kadanuumuu a human whose evolutionarily determined age and lack of head has him falsely lumped with what are almost certainly apes.

2. ScienceDaily: “Canyon Carved in Just Three Days in Texas Flood: Insight into Ancient Flood Events on Earth and Mars

With a headline worded as if written by a young-earther, the press release for a new study of Texas’s Canyon Lake Gorge reveals that an increasing number of scientists are coming to grips with catastrophic geology.

Young-earth scientists once caused a major controversy (indirectly) for arguing that Grand Canyon was formed rapidly. But recent events have given scientists of all stripes an appreciation for the geologic power of “a lot of water in a little time”—which contrasts with the commonly accepted model of “a little water in a lot of time,” used to explain such formations as Grand Canyon.

In October 2007, we reported on the overflow of Canyon Lake and the formation of Canyon Lake Gorge, which occurred in 2002 (before News to Note was around). At a little over a mile (2 km) long and an average depth of 23 feet (7 m), the gorge is far smaller (to say the least) than Grand Canyon; but given that it formed in just three days of heavy flooding, it’s instructive regarding the power of fast-moving water.

Now, California Institute of Technology geologist Michael Lamb and Texas State University geographer Mark Fonstad report in Nature Geoscience some of the implications that the indubitably rapid formation of the canyon has for mainstream geology. The press release states:

Our traditional view of deep river canyons, such as the Grand Canyon, is that they are carved slowly, as the regular flow and occasionally moderate rushing of rivers erodes rock over periods of millions of years. Such is not always the case, however.

The scientists used a combination of aerial photography and field measurements of the area where the gorge now lies to estimate the rate of erosion during the flood. Amazingly, the team determined that the rate of erosion was limited only by the amount of sediment the floodwater could carry—which speaks volumes for the erosive power of the retreating waters of a global Flood.

“This is one of a few places where models for canyon formation can be tested because we know the flood conditions under which this canyon formed,” Lamb stated. His point, while presumably not intended as such, reminds us that when it comes to most geologic formations, we haven’t observed how they formed. All bring some sort of presuppositions to the table—such as that natural processes have persisted, basically unchanged, over time, or that God sent a worldwide Flood to destroy humankind.

We can’t be any clearer than what we said back in 2007 about the significance of the gorge: “[I]f a single overflowing spillway in Texas can carve a mile-and-half-long, 80-foot-deep gorge in three days, imagine the geological havoc that a worldwide Flood—and its retreat—would cause over the span of more than a year!”

3. BBC News: “Fin to Limb Evolution Clue Found

Could a loss of genetic information have been responsible for one of evolution’s supposed great leaps forward?

Stiff-finned fish boldly setting “foot” on land millions of years ago is one of the most well-known chapters in the evolutionist’s history book. But while creationists have dismissed such transitions as requiring unfounded increases in genetic information, a new study suggests a loss of genetic information may have contributed to the fish-walking transition. Could it be so?

Reporting in Nature, the team, led by the University of Ottawa’s Marie-Andree Akimenko, describes two genes that play an important role in the development of zebrafish fins. More specifically, the genes code for proteins that build fibers called actinotrichia. Later, the fibers form bony fin rays in mature fish fins. Unsurprisingly, when the team deactivated the genes in zebrafish embryos, the fins that developed were “truncated.”

The team then compared the zebrafish fin development to the maturation of mouse limbs. Akimenko explained, “When we compared fin development and limb development, the early steps are very similar. But at one point there is a divergence, and that correlates with the beginning of the expression of these genes.” The scientists therefore conclude that these genes were lost during the evolutionary transition of some fish to land-walkers.

While BBC News describes the alleged loss as a “key step” in the evolution of tetrapods, we find two major faults with the study. First, the idea that the genes were “lost” during an evolutionary transition presupposes that an evolutionary transition did, in fact, occur—it interprets the presence of the genes in zebrafish and their absence in mice to an event in evolutionary history rather than to differential design. Second, the disappearance of actinotrichia and bony rays in fish fins does not account for the complex genetic changes (leading to skeletal and muscular changes) that would allow fish-like creatures to support their full weight while moving on land. As such, the evidence for this evolutionary transition remains undiscovered and, in our opinion, nonexistent.

4. AP: “Stem Cells Reverse Blindness Caused by Burns

Adult stem cells have been used in a blindness-curing treatment described by one ophthalmologist as a “roaring success.”

The treatments were administered as part of an Italian study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the ten-year study, doctors performed the treatment on 106 individuals who had eye damage caused by caustic substances, then tracked the patients’ vision improvements following the procedure. The individuals all had partial or complete corneal damage in one eye or partial corneal damage in both eyes—but not complete damage in both eyes.

Doctors began the treatment by extracting stem cells from a healthy portion of the patient’s limbus. The stem cells of the limbus, which surrounds the cornea, help replace dead corneal cells. (Individuals with total damage in both eyes were ineligible for the procedure because they lack any healthy limbus tissue.) Next, the researchers propagated the healthy stem cells in the lab, then they removed scar tissue from the patient’s damaged eye(s). Finally, the doctors introduced the healthy stem cells grown in the lab into the damaged cornea.

Three-quarters of the patients regained sight after the operation, with some of the others experiencing more limited improvement. Incredibly, the success stories included one individual whose eyes were damaged more than 60 years ago. The patients also did not need to take anti-rejection drugs because the stem cells came from their own bodies.

The procedure is another exciting success of medical therapy that uses adult stem cells. These do not require the destruction of human life, as do embryonic stem cells, which are extracted from viable human embryos that are destroyed in the process. Further, adult stem cell therapies have a proven track record, something that can’t be said for the embryonic alternative.

5. The Telegraph: “Jesus Did Not Die on Cross, Says Scholar

Is what sounds like a blatantly anti-Christian statement something to get riled up about?

Gothenburg University theologian Gunnar Samuelsson, described as a “committed Christian” by the Telegraph, has a new theory that is decidedly at odds with what Christians believe: Samuelsson doesn’t think Jesus died on a cross. Rather, what we think of as the “cross” may have been something else, and Jesus may not have died on it anyway, Samuelsson’s controversial hypothesis suggests.

Before we respond to the theory itself, consider the context Samuelsson provides for his viewpoint, as quoted in the Telegraph:

“That a man named Jesus existed in that part of the world and in that time is well-documented. He left a rather good foot-print in the literature of the time. I do believe that the mentioned man is the son of God. My suggestion is not that Christians should reject or doubt the biblical text. My suggestion is that we should read the text as it is, not as we think it is. We should read on the lines, not between the lines. The text of the Bible is sufficient. We do not need to add anything.”

Samuelsson’s starting point seems, on the whole, both reasonable and agreeable: a sola Scriptura view and an acknowledgment of extra-biblical confirmation of Christ’s historicity. And he is right to point out that Christian belief sometimes incorporates details that are not actually based in Scripture (though they may still be fully compatible with Scripture)—such as that there were three wise men, or that the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve consumed was an apple.

But from that starting point, Samuelsson departs to the following destination:

“[W]hat’s even more challenging is the same [that “we do not need to add anything”] can be concluded about the accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. The New Testament doesn’t say as much as we’d like to believe. The text of the passion narratives is not that exact and information loaded, as we Christians sometimes want it to be. If you are looking for texts that depict the act of nailing persons to a cross you will not find any beside the Gospels. . . . [D]escriptions of crucifixions are remarkably absent in the antique literature. The sources where you would expect to find support for the established understanding of the event really don’t say anything. Consequently, the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged.”

Samuelsson argues both that the word translated “cross” in the Gospel accounts may mean something else—viz., “pole”—and that extra-biblical sources cast doubt on the Gospel accounts because they do not document crucifixion as a method of execution nor show how Jesus would have been attached to the object in question.

But that Jesus died on a cross, by contrast, comes straight from Scripture; consider the plain reading of such verses as Matthew 27:57–60, Luke 23:46, John 19:38, John 20:25, Acts 2:23, Galatians 3:13, Colossians 2:14, and many others, and it’s impossible to deny the historical death of Christ on a cross except by disputing a whole slew of words throughout the New Testament as mistranslated. That, of course, would mean Samuelsson is single-handedly challenging generations of Greek scholars—which makes us more than a little skeptical of his claims, and even of his readings in the extra-biblical literature around the time of Jesus.

The alternative is that Samuelsson is committing eisegesis: annulling the plain reading of the infallible New Testament accounts because of what fallible, extra-biblical sources tell him (or do not tell him, in this case). Even if that is true, however, we note that there are extra-biblical sources that document the practice of crucifixion.

We should certainly be cautious with our interpretation of Scripture, separating what the Bible tells us from extra-biblical legends and traditional elaborations that may or may not be true and that may or may not be compatible with Scripture (Acts 17:11). In this instance, however, Samuelsson has exceeded appropriate skepticism and is undermining sound biblical doctrine with unbiblical “evidence.”

For more information:

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • What’s “hyper-environmentalism” and why should Christians care? Answers in Genesis astrophysicist Jason Lisle answers that question in a recent OneNewsNow article.
  • We covered the legal plight of fellow creation ministry the Institute for Creation Research back in March and April of 2009; sadly, ICR’s graduate school has been denied accreditation-related certification in the state of Texas. The ministry is currently weighing its options with regard to future action in the matter.
  • A Huffington Post columnist discusses “five human lessons from Genesis that still apply today” (implying that some lessons don’t?). From Cain and Abel to Noah’s Ark, the author hits the mark—for the most part. (We especially enjoyed the line, “[F]ollow the dimensions given for the [A]rk and what you’ll build is not a boat but a huge cargo container-like structure”—although, of course, the Ark would have performed admirably as a seagoing vessel.)
  • Has Europe had a “common artistic culture” for as long as 35,000 years (in reference to cave paintings)? But ScienceNOW cautions that radiocarbon dating of some of the paintings is “a difficult and controversial procedure.”
  • It may be a hot spot, but it’s not a vacation hot spot: planet HD 209458b’s dayside surface temperature is 1850˚F (1000 C) at its coolest, while carbon monoxide winds whip across the planet at speeds of 4350 miles (7000 km) per hour. The planet is a harsh reminder of the specially designed beauty and habitability of Earth.
  • Did a comet wipe out the mammoths? No, according to a new study, although the debate goes on.
  • Is one species of jellyfish immortal? Either way, the creature is certainly a biological wonder.
  • We often think of how the Fall affected humanity, or of how the Fall affected nature in ways that affect humanity (e.g., stinging insects). But killer chimpanzees are a poignant sign of animal suffering that can be traced back to human sin.
  • The human jaw is remarkably efficient: so much for the evolutionary idea that “our large brains came at the cost of a less powerful bite.”
  • While a new study using radiocarbon dating purports to augment archaeologists’ certainty about the timeline of Egyptian pharaohs, one archaeologist complains that the study “expose[s] the weakness of radiocarbon chronology.” Given that the chronology stretches into the antediluvian era, we’re inclined to pay special attention to his complaints!

For more information: Get Answers

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