It’s no secret that fossils play a prominent role in the debate over the history of life on Earth. But will we soon be arguing over the meaning of Martian fossils?
A study led by J. Alexis Palmero Rodriguez of the Planetary Science Institute has drawn attention to a region in northern Mars as an ideal spot for finding Martian fossils. Near a place known as Gemini Scopuli, the location is thought to have had sustained subsurface water and groundwater, believed to be ideal for both evolution and fossil preservation.
Many scientists think subsurface water would have provided the best environment for Martian life to have evolved, because the life-forms would have been shielded from malignant ultraviolet rays. That poses a riddle for researchers, however, as Mars landers and rovers lack the equipment to dig very far beneath the surface. Scientists therefore are hunting for an area where subsurface water could have risen to the surface, bringing life with it, they say, then leaving fossils as it slowly retreated.
Near Gemini Scopuli, geologic evidence points to the exact scenario the team was hoping for (minus any signs of life). Sediments suggest the area was once covered in water, and geological features indicate a slow, steady process of groundwater seeping up through cracks in the crust to form long-lasting lakes and oceans. According to Rodriguez, such a stable liquid environment, especially if accompanied by a surface layer of ice, would have helped organisms survive the barrage of ultraviolet rays.
“We know that evolution and successful adaptations of life-forms to new environments are more likely to occur when there are geologically long periods of time available, [s]o gradual and long-lived groundwater emergence would have increased the chances of successful adaptations to the surface and near-surface environments,” Rodriguez explained.
University of Arizona planetary scientist Victor Baker, who was not involved in the research, adds,
“Whatever is an indication of previous activities of living organisms can be a fossil. It doesn't have to be bones. It can be traces. It could be evidence of chemistry that one can tie back to a biological process.
“To expect that Mars would have achieved something like the Cambrian explosion would really be stretching it, [b]ut to expect that Mars might have [microorganisms] similar to what was characteristic life for most of Earth’s very early history is not too great of a stretch.”
So fossils on Mars isn’t a stretch of the imagination?* Baker’s credulity exemplifies the confidence evolution-believing astrobiologists have that life exists on other worlds, despite the lack of evidence. The media seems to be helping the view, however, in its regular and often zealous coverage of such news; the generally reputable Telegraph recently published an article under the headline “Nasa Uncovers New ‘Life on Mars' Evidence after Rover Got Stuck in the Mud.” But the story’s text reveals that—as usual—the “evidence” is only of watery conditions on Mars that could have been more hospitable to life than conditions today. (Related news linked to Martian life is more soberly reported by ScienceDaily.)
The Bible doesn’t explicitly teach that God did not create life elsewhere in the physical universe, although multiple passages imply that intelligent life—in particular, life created in God’s image—is unique to Earth. It’s important to keep in mind not only what the Bible implies about alien life, but also that what’s primarily driving the search for alien life today is not scientific evidence, but rather faith in the power of evolution.
Creationists often critique evolutionary theory as lacking a plausible mechanism for increasing organisms’ genetic information. But will University of California–Irvine research “shed light” in the void?
A team of evolutionary biologists at the school has been busy breeding fruit flies—six hundred generations worth of Drosophila melanogaster, who have had a combined life span roughly equivalent to 12,000 human years since the lab began breeding them in 1991. The goal? To resolve a debate over the genetic basis for “evolution” that’s been raging for years.
The question is whether “evolution” in sexual organisms is usually the result of a mutation in a single gene being passed to offspring, or instead the result of lesser mutations in multiple parent genes that together contribute to offspring evolution. Although the former occurs in asexual organisms, respected scientists have lined up on both sides of the debate over whether the process is the same in sexual organisms.
The team at UC–Irvine has bred their fruit flies such that two different types have “evolved” after thousands of generations: some that live very long lives, and others that develop quickly but have a short life span. Now the team has undertaken genetic analysis of the last few generations of flies, trying to determine whether the difference in development and life span can be chalked up to changes in a single gene.
But instead of one gene or even a few, the researchers found 500 genes associated with short life spans—which is hard to reconcile with the “single mutated gene” view. Although PhysOrg quotes another biologist who cautions that we do know of some “cases where a single gene affects something,” he adds that the research nonetheless “really reveals just how complex some of these genetic traits can be.”
Of course, this sheds no light on how mutations can confer new information in a genetic code, which would have been required if more complex organisms evolved from simpler ones. In this case (as in all others), the organisms studied have changed, but there’s no indication that the result is due to anything other than scientists having selected for genes that were already present in the original fly population. Far from shedding light on a supposed genetic mechanism of evolution, this study rather shows us that the genetics that determine biology—and allow organisms to adapt to their environments as God designed—are extremely complex, which casts even further doubt on the evolutionary story.
Our “cave-men” kin: just how smart were they?
Despite a steady stream of news in the last few decades showing that our troglodyte “ancestors” were brighter than popular culture often indicates, scientists sometimes seem surprised to find more evidence that Neanderthals and other historic humans were highly intelligent. In this case, the news comes from a cave in South Africa, where researchers led by Vincent Mourre of the University of Toulouse–Le Mirail have investigated 127 spear tips—stones that have been made triangular, presumably for use at the end of spears (or knives). The stones were found in sediments dated at 75,000 years old.
What engrossed the researchers is the manner in which many of the stones appear to have been made pointed, appropriate for being fitted atop a spear, for instance. The rocks show evidence of a technique known as pressure flaking that produces sharp, symmetrical, durable stones—and that requires precision as well as knowledge of the technique. But the stones are said to be 55,000 years older than the oldest known examples of pressure flaking. And not only that, but the oldest examples were flint rocks, which is more easily manipulated; these stones are silcrete, which is harder to work with.
Interestingly, other scientists think pressure flaking may be an even more “ancient” practice. University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign anthropologist Stanley Ambrose suspects the practice might have been around for 100,000 years, while University of Cape Town archaeologist David Braun stretches the date even farther back.
Given that we reject the controversial, old-age dating methods these scientists base their work on, creationists can come to two conclusions about historical uses of pressure flaking. First, insofar as the dates do indicate that the stones were fashioned by humans several thousand years ago, it confirms that even these “ancient” humans were crafty and knowledgeable. Second, insofar as evolutionists find evidence of pressure flaking farther and farther back in time than their conjectured history of humanity allows, it reveals the flaws in old-age dating methods.
As further evidence of flaws in old-age dating methods, consider a ScienceDaily report on news we covered two weeks back. As we reported, radiocarbon dating of an archaeological site in France contradicted normal archaeological interpretations of the data; two old-age dating methods were at direct odds with one another. As the ScienceDaily report explains, the archaeological interpretation has been thrown out, with a vague, unknown “physical disturbance” blamed for upsetting archaeological layers. This reminds us that old-Earthers are just as dogmatic as they claim young-Earthers to be, ready to rescue their basic presuppositions from the evidence when required.
If virgin birth is possible, does that mean Jesus was no “miracle baby”?
“Parthenogenesis” is the technical term for what is commonly called virgin birth. As the common name suggests, there’s something strange about parthenogenesis: an animal (or plant) that normally reproduces sexually reproduces asexually instead. Outside of plants and invertebrate animals, parthenogenesis is extremely rare, having been documented in fewer than one in every thousand vertebrate species (including species of lizards and sharks); even in those species, it seems to be a rare behavior.
In this case, a female boa constrictor seems to have had multiple virgin births—despite having been “courted” by male snakes. What tipped the researchers off to the unique births is that all twenty-two offspring of the female boa are female, and all sport the same rare coloring as their mother that’s linked to a recessive gene (both highly unlikely results had sex occurred).
Genetic analysis by a team at North Carolina State University revealed more strange results. The offspring all have only half of their mother’s genes, including two female sex chromosomes—which is unheard of and was previously thought unviable. (Male snakes usually have two male sex chromosomes and female snakes have one male and one female sex chromosome.) This further confirms a case of parthenogenesis.
Scientists are just beginning to unravel this fascinating behavior, and there remain many puzzles about why some species ever give birth in this manner. Unsurprisingly, the casual temptation for a skeptic may be to suggest that, even if there were a Jesus of Nazareth born of a virgin, it could have been through a parthenogenetic process. But given that parthenogenesis results in a near clone of the parent—and hence, all offspring are female—no one can suggest that a virgin conception of Christ could have been anything but miraculous.
As scientists learn more and more about the planets of our galaxy, they’re learning more and more about whether Earth is unique. So is it?
ScienceNOW reports on work by scientists at the University of California–Santa Cruz to investigate what sort of exoplanets (planets outside our own solar system) we might expect to find. The unsurprising conclusion? Planets like Earth may be common, but most are likely to be extremely inhospitable for life.
Using computer models to simulate planetary formation in a variety of conditions, the team found “super-Earths” were a frequent result. Super-Earths are rocky worlds like ours, but they range up to ten times bigger and orbit far closer to their hypothetical host star—completing a year in the time of an Earth day or less. That means that despite the same fundamental composition as Earth, these planets would be “oceans of lava, possibly in the process of being vaporized by their own stars,” one of the scientists describes.
Although the results are purely theoretical, ScienceNOW quotes another researcher who notes that new telescopic data suggest the model is at least partly on target, with several super-hot Earth-sized planets already discovered. And while the news is another indication of how special our own planet is, with conditions “just right” for life, we should keep in mind that it’s much easier to find exoplanets that are large and orbit close to their host stars (unlike Earth). But even if we do discover, someday, that Earth is not unique and that planets “just right for life” are common, evolutionists will have no explanation for why life hasn’t evolved on them.
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