1. Science Daily: “‘Hobbit’ Was an Iodine-Deficient Human, Not Another Species, New Study Suggests

This week:

  1. Say it ain’t so, Frodo
  2. Religion ignorance among . . . religious
  3. How old is HBV?
  4. Funding for E.T.
  5. Walking whales
  6. And Don’t Miss . . .

Did you miss it? Catch last week’s News to Note or any other!

Note: Over the course of four weeks, we are having guest columnists contribute to News to Note. Keep checking back to read different takes on the latest news—but always from a biblical worldview.

The University of Western Australia's Emeritus Professor Charles Oxnard and colleagues have reconfirmed that the “Hobbits” were human after all.

These “Hobbits” are fossil remains found on the Indonesian island of Flores, not the diminutive people of the books/films in the fiction series The Lord of the Rings; these Indonesian fossils were given the nickname “Hobbit” in a nod to the trilogy

A paper by Professor Oxnard et al. back in 2008 caused controversy when it suggested that endemic dwarf cretinism resulted from congenital hypothyroidism, and that the “hobbits” were not a new species of human. In their new 2010 paper, Professor Oxnard’s team “mathematically compared the bones of cretins in relation to chimpanzees, unaffected humans and H. floresiensis,” using two statistical methods: principal components analyses (PCA) and non-metric multi-dimensional scaling (MDS).

Their work shows that the skeletal remains were not a distinct species, but rather iodine-deficient humans. “This is consistent with recent hypothyroid endemic cretinism throughout Indonesia, including the nearby island of Bali,” Professor Oxnard said. “Cretinism is caused by various environmental factors including iodine deficiency—a deficiency which would have been present on Flores at the period to which the dwarfed Flores fossils are dated.”

Starting with the biblical worldview, it becomes clear that the alleged “human ancestor” fossils we unearth are—time and time again—either slight variations of modern humans, or extinct varieties of apes, not some kind of “ape-men.” Back in 2008 we at Answers in Genesis stated that the “Hobbits” were most likely—considering the skeletal deformities—true humans kept small because of disease or malnutrition. It shows that a biblical worldview is conducive to good scientific conclusions, as we have been saying all along.

2. USA Today:Most Americans believe in God but don’t know religious tenets

A new survey, released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that, although 86% of Americans believe in God or a higher power, they don’t know much about church history or other faiths.

The key findings were:

Doctrines don’t grab us. Only 55% of Catholic respondents knew the core teaching [of the Roman Catholic Church] that the bread and wine in the Mass become the body and blood of Christ, and are not merely symbols. Just 19% of Protestants knew the basic tenet that salvation is through faith alone, not actions as well.

Basic Bible eludes us. Just 55% of all respondents knew the Golden Rule isn’t one of the Ten Commandments; 45% could name all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

World religions are a struggle. Fewer than half (47%) knew that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist; 27% knew most people in Indonesia are Muslims.

The groups that fared best were atheists/agnostics, then Jews and Mormons, although highly educated people did best on the quiz overall. It must be noted, however, that a statistically insignificant number of people identified themselves as atheists/agnostics, thus headlines about the survey that blared “Atheists, Agnostics Score Highest” are highly misleading. Only 36% “knew teachers are allowed to teach classes comparing world religions,” and a mere 23% knew that “teachers can read from the Bible as an example of literature.”

The findings hardly seem surprising, considering that recent generations of young people have gone through a U.S. education system in which the topic of religion has been largely ignored (or if it is brought up, it is ridiculed). After all, even the mention of an Intelligent Designer can be cause for dismissal, suspension, or loss of tenure for a public school teacher or university professor. God, prayer, and Bible study have largely been removed from public, civic, and community life. In liberal colleges students are being told in comparative religion classes that all faiths are basically valid. If every faith leads to God, then why study them? Isn’t one as good as any other? We live in a secularized culture that has embraced moral relativism and has lost the foundations upon which it was built—the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do (Psalm 11:3)?

3. Physorg: “Researchers find 19 million-year-old genomic fossils of hepatitis B-like viruses in songbirds

Researchers at University of Texas–Arlington have found “old” virus fragments from the same family as modern Hepatitis B virus in the genomes of modern songbirds.

The article, “Genomic Fossils Calibrate the Long-Term Evolution of Hepadnaviruses,” in PLoS Biology “marks the first time that endogenous hepadnaviruses have been found in any organism” (endogenous viruses can deposit fragments of themselves into chromosomes, allowing them to be passed down from generation-to-generation). Physorg reports that “[p]reviously, most of these known ‘fossilized’ virus sequences came from retroviruses.”

Eddie Holmes, professor of biology at Penn State University, said, “The results they obtained were remarkable; whereas we previously thought of hepadnavirus evolution on time-scales of only a few thousand years, this paper shows that the true time-scale is in fact many million years. Therefore, hepadnaviruses, and likely many other viruses as well, are far older than we previously thought.”

“Genomic fossils like the remarkable hepadnaviral fossils . . . have the prospect of completely revising our preconceived notions about the age and evolution of such viruses,” said Harmit Singh Malik, associate member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.

The authors arrived at their 19-million-year date by locating the fragments “in the same spot on the genome of five species of passerine birds” and assuming that there was a “common ancestor that lived more than 19 million years ago” to which they traced those five species. Then they utilized a “molecular clock” to determine approximately when that divergence took place. To calibrate the molecular clock, one must know the absolute age of some evolutionary divergence event, such as the split between mammals and birds. An estimate of the timing of this event can be gained by examining the fossil record, or by correlating this particular instance of evolutionary divergence with some geological event of known antiquity (such as the formation of a mountain range that split the geographic range of a species in two, thus initiating a process of speciation). Once the evolutionary rate is calculated using a calibration, this calibration can then be applied to other organisms to estimate the timing of evolutionary events. Using this method, it has been postulated that any two bird species are diverging from each other at a rate of 2% per 1 million years. This has long been regarded as a standard quantity in genetic studies of birds and is known as the “2% rule.”

Anyone notice more than a few assumptions in squeezing 19 million years out of the virus fragments here? We would argue that the original age of thousands of years is correct, and does not rely on mountains of speculation piled on top of pre-determined assumptions. God created both viruses and birds with huge genetic variability, and they have reproduced within their kinds to become . . . viruses and birds. No surprise there, but what is surprising is the “remarkable similarity” of alleged 19-million-year-old viruses to modern ones.

For more information:

4. The Guardian: “Pope's astronomer says he would baptise an alien if it asked him

The Vatican’s astronomer would love to “baptize an alien.”

And Dr. Guy Consolmagno also mentioned, at a recent festival in the U.K., that “intelligent aliens may be living among the heavens and most likely are to have souls.” This could imply a new stance by the Catholic Church, which has never before postulated that aliens may need salvation.

Correspondingly, even with all the billions of dollars wasted on SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and NASA’s pork barrel projects looking for life on other planets (although we applaud many things in space exploration, which allows us to discover more about the magnificent handiwork of our Creator), E.T. has yet to phone home! As to the Vatican’s spokesman talking about “baptizing” an alien, we have to wonder why? Scripture makes it clear that humanity needs a Savior because Adam (an earthly human) sinned and brought death and disease to this world (and all of creation); and only another man, a perfect man—Jesus Christ—can restore us to God (Romans 5:10–19, 1 Corinthians 15: 20–26). Baptizing an alien, therefore (if they existed) would be pointless, because Jesus came to earth to save the sin-cursed progeny of Adam.

5. Howstuffworks: “How Whales Work (and used to walk)

It's not clear what these proto-whales were supposedly like, but some paleontologists believe they may have been anything ranging from hippo-like, hoofed mammals to something more like modern wolves.

Evolutionists believe that, over millions of years, these proto-whale creatures began to spend more time in the water, “like modern sea lions or otters.” Then, eventually, the creatures left land altogether, slowly losing their legs and fur to disuse.

But, as this article states: “why would a land mammal, specifically adapted for life on solid ground, evolve into a sea creature, spending much of its time away from air and sunlight?” Paleontologists speculate that the whale's ancestors simply “went where the food was. The ocean is filled with a wide variety of fish and crustaceans, while food along the coast can be scarce.”

But these “transitional ancestors” between land mammals and whales have not been very forthcoming. Every candidate has serious problems, and several vitally important transitions that would have needed to take place have been misrepresented or virtually ignored. These would include: tail to fluke transition, spinal modification to allow for increased muscle attachments for a fluke vs. a tail, leg-to-flipper-to-fin transition (most of which has been shown to be reproductive attachments, not real walking limbs in the fossils), and pelvic girdle modification. In other words, a whale is still a whale—and has been since God created the sea creatures on Day 5 (Genesis 1:20–23).

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • A new iPhone app will tell how long it’s been since you and your dog (or cat) last shared a common ancestor. “The app works by linking to the website timetree.org, an online database of scientific studies using ‘molecular clocks’. . . to find how long it’s been since the two species last made their evolutionary split.” We’ve already discussed the numerous assumptions in the “molecular clock” model, but the real issue here is: are we ultimately any different from our pets? The Bible says man is unique and created in the image of God.
  • US scientists find potentially habitable planet near Earth. It’s been nicknamed the “Goldilocks planet,” because it’s “just right” for life. The planet is in the “habitable zone” of the red dwarf star Gliese 581, so it could have surface water. Secular astronomers believe that liquid water and an atmosphere are the key ingredients for a planet to possibly sustain life. What do we believe about extraterrestrial life? See Key Ingredients for Life.
  • Genes That Make Us Human: evolutionary biologists believe that “the gradual increase from the few thousand genes in a bacterium to the tens of thousands of genes in a person came primarily through genome- and gene-duplication events.” Although the researchers analyzed only a portion of the human genome, they think, by extrapolation, that humans have evolved at least 18 new genes. See what the Bible has to say on human evolution.
  • European Neanderthals may have met their doom in a catastrophic volcanic eruption over 40,000 years ago. A new study says that a cataclysmic explosion created a “volcanic winter” that decimated their population. Volcanic dust deposits, found in a cave in the Caucasus, seem to indicate that such an ecological disaster was responsible. Of course, just last year it was the theory of being outcompeted for resources by Homo sapiens that doomed the Neanderthals, but such is the case in anthropology. Read here to see what really happened to the Neanderthals?

For more information: Get Answers


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