Experts in the ever-changing topic of human evolution thought they had most of it figured out—when our ancestors left Africa, the major evolutionary steps since then, etc. But a human jawbone discovered in China just doesn’t fit.
The jaw was found in 2007 in Zhiren Cave in the south of China, and its “prominent” chin led researchers to believe it was from a relatively modern human. The problem is that the fossil has been dated at far older than it “should” be, according to existing theories. In fact, at an estimated 100,000 years old, the bone is 60,000 years older than any other Homo sapiens remains in China—and 40,000 years older than the date when modern humans left Africa (according to evolutionary scientists).
Moreover—and of particular relevance to creationists—is that the find indicates that ancient H. sapiens may have been “mingling—and possibly even interbreeding—with other human species for 50,000 or 60,000 years.” For that matter, one researcher notes that the jawbone is “within the range” of Neanderthal chins. (Neanderthals are sometimes classified as a subset of H. sapiens and sometimes classified separately.)
The discovery wins two points for creationist views on human origins. First, it strikes a blow against the idea that multiple tracks of evidence align neatly in favor of the evolutionary view. Not only does the Zhiren find go against old-age interpretations of archaeological evidence, but it also contradicts old-age interpretations of existing genetic evidence. Yet the date for the Zhiren bone is “solid,” one anthropologist pointed out.
Second, the find indicates that the history of humanity cannot be easily divided into separate species living (largely) separate lives at separate times. The evidence is that multiple groups of humans now claimed to be separate species (on the basis of minor anatomical differences and old-earth dating techniques) actually lived alongside one another and intermingled, all fully humans made in the image of God.
Crows’ remarkable intelligence has been one of our favorite topics over the years (our last update came in April). Here’s the latest.
The hallmark of crow intelligence as it’s been studied so far is the ability of the birds to use tools to get what they want, even using multiple tools in conjunction. Experiments strongly suggest that the birds are not simply wielding the objects willy-nilly and unintentionally using them as tools, but rather that the birds understand them as tools. BBC News reports that one widely studied species of crow “make the most complex tools of any animal yet studied apart from humans.”
Much of the previous work researching crows occurred at the University of Auckland, where scientists have now turned to studying how the crows learn to use tools in the first place. A team led by psychologist Jenny Holzhaider traveled to the island of Maré in New Caledonia to observe New Caledonian crows in their natural habitat.
There, the researchers were surprised to find that the adult crows take the young ones to “tool school” where the adults make and use tools but let the young ones “play” with the tools as well. Interestingly, the behavior seems rooted in the tight family structure the crows have. Thus, the secret to New Caledonian crow tool-making and use is that they learn it from their parents, not from their peers.
“[The crows] social system is based on high quality relationships with a small number of crows, especially immediate family,” explained team member Gavin Hunt, who added that the youth “closely follow and watch their parents’ behaviour, are taken to tool using sites, and are ‘allowed’ to use the tools of their parents.”
Crows aren’t the only intelligent flying creature making news this week, however. Scientists at the University of London have discovered that bees rival computers at certain complicated mathematical tasks. The researchers studied bees’ interactions with artificial, computer controlled flowers to study how the bees navigate. As it turns out, the bees can quickly calculate the path that will help them visit multiple flowers with the least amount of flying (to conserve energy)—even though computers spend days solving similar problems. “We need to understand how they can solve the Travelling Salesman Problem [a mathematics puzzle] without a computer. What short-cuts do they use?” one scientist asked.
Both bees and crows offer exciting examples of God’s brilliant designs at work in the wild. They also show that it isn’t just apes who have sophisticated smarts, which disrupts the evolutionary caricature of them as our “almost human” relatives.
Could global ice ages have “triggered” evolution—or is it just another wild idea that works on paper but lacks actual evidence?
A team led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution biogeochemist Noah Planavsky claims to have uncovered a possible link between severe ice ages nicknamed “snowball earth” and the evolution of oxygen-breathing life-forms in earth’s history. The research is reported in the journal Nature.
So-called “snowball earth” glaciations, thought to have occurred multiple times in earth’s history, covered the planet almost completely in ice. (Most creationists, by contrast, think the evidence for the most recent of these ice ages points to a single multifaceted Ice Age that came about as a climatic consequence of the global Flood, while the evidence for the earlier so-called ice ages can be better explained as catastrophically deposited debris layers.)
Planavsky’s team measured the phosphorus content of certain minerals thought to have formed in ancient oceans, finding that levels remained constant over time with the exception of a “surge” during an estimated 635–750 million years ago. This fits in roughly with the appearance of the earliest animals in the fossil record. But is there a connection?
According to the researchers, glaciation would have broken up rock, releasing phosphorus that would have washed into the oceans as the glaciers melted (hence the surge). There, the phosphorus could have stimulated algae growth, leading to more oxygen production in the oceans. Eventually the level of atmospheric oxygen would have risen as well, easing (hypothetically) the evolution of oxygen-breathing animals.
For University of Southern Denmark biogeochemist Donald Canfield, however, the idea “is a fascinating possibility” but lacks “the continuous [geologic] record that would prove it.” Additionally, critics have pointed out that the phosphorus release from deglaciation would be insufficient to substantially influence ocean life, thereby short-circuiting the hypothesized increase in oxygen production. Our problem, however, goes back to the root of evolutionary ideas: in what way does the presence of oxygen imply that life could have evolved to breath it? The vague, unevidenced answer of genetic mutation just isn’t good enough.
We’ve all seen photographs of insects, arachnids, and other small creatures trapped in amber. But a lizard?
A hunk of amber found in Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar) preserves a headless dragonfly along with the foot and tail of a lizard—a strange juxtaposition frozen in time. According to Oregon State University–Corvallis paleontologist George Poinar, who reports on the find in an upcoming issue of Palaeodiversity, the most likely story is that the lizard had just attacked the dragonfly and therefore “probably had the dragonfly’s head in its mouth” when both creatures were trapped in resin.
If the amber were indeed 100 million years old, as is claimed, it would contain the oldest dragonfly specimen ever discovered in amber. More interestingly, ScienceDaily reports that “the study and others like it continue to reveal the similarities of behaviors and ecosystems separated by many millions of years[.]” Poinar adds:
“Dragonflies are still eaten by small lizards every day[;] it’s a routine predator/prey interaction. This shows once again how behaviors of various life forms are retained over vast amounts of time, and continues to give us insights into the ecology of ancient ecosystems.”
Studies in Costa Rica confirm that even “modern” lizards enjoy munching on dragonflies if they have the opportunity. Of course, this should be no surprise for creationists; if the amber is on the order of thousands of years old rather than millions, we would certainly expect to find significant similarities of behaviors and ecosystems between the time periods.
Is Charles Darwin a fair target of creationist antipathy? Or is the iconic scientist unfairly singled out for criticism?
When it comes to criticizing Darwin, we’re as “guilty” as the next creationist group, having produced in recent years everything from a special magazine issue to a DVD series to a book to a pocket guide that all focus on Darwin’s life and his ideas. Of course, much of that was in response to the widely celebrated 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth (1809), and the materials are not ad hominem potshots but instead carefully researched analyses of his life and controversial ideas.
For Michigan State University paleontologist Danita Brandt, however, “It’s time to get off Chuck’s back!” A news release from the university reports Brandt’s concern over recent statements by a political candidate that since we don’t see apes evolving today, Darwin’s theory on the origin of man is disproved. (Answers in Genesis has long explained why this reasoning is flawed.)
Brandt named other reasons why she finds popular vilification of Darwin unmerited: he didn’t invent the idea of evolution, he didn’t coin the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and he was “a spiritual person.” But—according to the news release—“[W]hen the topic [of evolution] is debated, cynics attack the man rather than the concept.”
Is it all so—do creationists ignore the truth about Charles Darwin? Brandt is certainly right that Darwin didn’t invent the idea of evolution; but we, too, have pointed that out on many occasions (e.g., in Creation in the Making). She’s right that Darwin didn’t coin the phrase “survival of the fittest”; but we, too, have pointed that out (e.g., in A review of the new Darwin exhibition [. . .]). As stated above, we have long warned about the fallacious argument that evolution isn’t true because apes aren’t evolving (into humans) today. And as for the argument that “cynics” like us “attack the man rather than the concept,” look for yourself at the “attacks” News to Note has leveled against evolution. How many even bring up Darwin, let alone attack him?
Lastly, when it comes to Darwin being a “spiritual person” (because he “once studied to be a minister,” the release notes), Brandt is either distorting the truth or needs to do more research. The inclusion of a quotation in which Darwin identifies himself as an agnostic is closer to the truth; he actively rejected both Christianity and any belief in a personal or knowable God. Thus, calling Darwin “spiritual” is akin to saying that vociferous atheist Richard Dawkins is “on the fence” about religion.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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