1. ScienceNOW: “Evolutionary Relationships Hold, Even in Our Guts

Although we may not often think of it, none of us are ever alone—we all have bacteria both on and in our bodies that, among other things, help us to digest food. But is this evidence for evolution?

Researchers have previously asked what differentiates the species of bacteria living in one human from another. Are the differences based on diet, heredity, or something else? Hoping to learn more, a team led by Yale University evolutionary biologist Howard Ochman collected fecal samples from chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans, then sequenced the bacterial DNA in the samples.

The scientists were looking for a particular gene known to vary across bacterial species. Based on that difference, their analysis could identify both the various species of bacteria and the frequency of each species in all of the samples. This served to estimate the types and frequency of bacteria in the stomachs of the primates and humans tested.

Next, the scientists assembled a “tree” of the primates species whose feces were sampled, building the branches based on similarity of gut bacteria. When finished, the researchers discovered that they had reconstructed the supposed evolutionary tree for primates, with the humans’ gut bacteria more similar to the chimps’ than to the gorillas’. Ochman’s team therefore concludes that evolutionary history is the most important driver in determining bacterial diversity in our bodies.

Does the research provide more evidence of the reality of evolution? We think not, because the scientists failed to account for the fact that some third factor may explain both the evolutionary tree and the “gut bacteria” tree. The evolutionary tree is based on morphological and genetic similarities between creatures. But it’s not unreasonable to think that morphological and genetic similarity between two organisms would lead to greater similarity in their gut bacteria (and, likewise, organisms with less in common genetically and morphologically should have more different gut bacteria populations). Therefore, both the evolutionary tree and the gut bacteria tree reflect the same underlying similarities; the question (which this study does not answer) is whether those similarities are the result of common descent or common design.

2. ScienceNOW: “Neandertal Children Developed on the Fast Track

Did Neanderthal children grow up more quickly than the rest of us?

A new study of Neanderthal teeth suggests that Neanderthal children matured faster than other humans, ScienceNOW reports on new research from a multinational team. Paleoanthropologists Tanya Smith of Harvard University and Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, along with Paul Tafforeau of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, have been studying fossilized teeth from several Neanderthals, including eleven children, as well other non-Neanderthal fossil humans. The scientists count growth lines in the teeth to estimate how much time elapsed before such events as the eruption of adult molars.

The results indicate that Neanderthals did mature more quickly than other humans: first molar crowns formed at two-and-a-half years (compared to three in other humans), with second molars appearing at age eight (compared with eleven in other humans). So does this mean they matured faster than us in general?

ScienceNOW quotes Arizona State University paleoanthropologist Gary Schwartz and University of Zurich neurobiologist Christoph Zollikofer, who note that differences in teeth maturation do not necessarily indicate differences in overall maturation; more studies of modern humans are needed to determine how strong the actual connection is.

How quickly Neanderthal teeth developed is an independent question from whether they were as human as “the rest of us,” of course. After all, Neanderthals had other relatively minor anatomical differences, and it remains uncertain if all of those differences are genetic or if some were environmentally induced.

3. BBC News: “Eggs with the Oldest Known Embryos of a Dinosaur Found

Paleontologists have at last reported on dinosaur eggs discovered more than thirty years ago.

The eggs, found in South Africa in 1976, are not only interesting because of their purported age (nearly 200 million years old), but also because they contain “well-preserved embryos.” The eggs belong to the species Massospondylus, a prosauropod.

The team, led by University of Toronto–Mississauga paleontologist Robert Reisz, believes that the embryos inside the eggs were about ready to hatch when they were fossilized. They therefore are a good guide for what Massospondylus juveniles may have looked like. Surprisingly, they looked very different from the adults, probably walking on all fours rather than on two hind legs only. Their heads may have also been disproportionately large, whereas the adults’ heads were disproportionately small.

Young-earth creationists believe that most of the fossils we find were produced by catastrophic processes, and in particular the global Flood of Noah’s day. This helps explain how dinosaur eggs and embryos could remain well preserved (they were quickly buried and fossilized); without catastrophic burial, it’s unclear why the eggs wouldn’t have hatched or, even if they did not hatch, why a predator or natural forces would not have destroyed the eggs long before they could have been buried. And since the global Flood occurred “only” a few thousand years ago, most dinosaur eggs that have been found are of very similar age.

4. Christianity Today: “The Divine Divide

Christianity Today offers a review of the interesting new book America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God—and What That Says about Us. So what do we have to say about what the review says about what the book says about what we say and what that says about us? (Whew!)

The books’ authors, Baylor University sociologists Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, rely on survey data to construct a new model of where the religious fault lines lie in the U.S. The model stipulates that most Americans believe in one of four “gods,” i.e., one out of four different conceptions of God.

The four conceptions of God in Froese and Bader’s model are the result of combining the possible answers to two straightforward questions. First, to what extent does God interact with the world? And second, to what extent does God judge the world? The four broad results are:

  • Those who believe God is both involved in and judging of the world believe in the “authoritative God.”
  • Those who believe God is involved in the world but does not judge it believe in the “benevolent God.”
  • Those who believe God is not generally involved in the world but still judges it believe in the “critical God.”
  • Those who believe God is neither engaged in the world nor judgmental believe in the “distant God.”

Christianity Today points out that the model helps move away from liberal/conservative views of religion that may oversimplify differences across worldviews. It also may show where general similarities in worldview emerge despite doctrinal differences.

Most interestingly (to us), Froese and Bader apply their model to explain religious views about science. In what Christianity Today calls “probably the strongest section of the book,”

Froese and Bader point out that the basic question for Christians is not whether the Bible and science are ultimately reconciled, but how. For the most part, only atheists think an intrinsic conflict exists between science and religion. Everyone else is working to make sure their worldview fits with science. This includes the dissenters from Darwinian orthodoxy. They want to teach competing accounts of human origins in science classes, the authors claim, to show a firm commitment to remaining properly scientific.

Nevertheless (and not surprisingly), individuals who believe God is engaged in the world—i.e., those who believe in the “authoritative God” or “benevolent God” (according to the Froese/Bader convention)—were much more likely to say that we rely too much on science and not enough on faith. Believers in the critical or distant God, by contrast, think science will eventually solve most of society’s problems. Of course, that latter view is ultimately “faith” in science as savior.

The Bible is quite clear that God is both engaged in and judging of the world, although not always in the ways we might expect. Even just a single verse like John 3:16 makes both of these points clear. God is involved in the world: he sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to become a baby and then a man. And He loves all people and will save all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, who will save them from God’s judgement to come.

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • The possible evidence of ancient tool use we reported on in August has been attacked again as dubious. Scientists writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argue that the scratches on bones found in Ethiopia were made not by stone tools, but rather by the claws of animals trampling over the bones. But a member of the team that first reported on the bones defended the original claims.
  • National Geographic News carries an interesting blog entry that discusses how evolution itself is evolving. Evolutionary scientists continue to discover that the so-called “modern synthesis” of Darwinian evolution developed in the middle of the twentieth century is flawed. To us, it’s a reminder that God’s creation is a whole lot more complicated than either evolutionists or creationists understand.
  • In the travel section of the Irish Independent, a seemingly fair-minded journalist describes his visit to the newly opened Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. The author writes that museum is a lot like “Disneyland for Darwinists,” including a “one-stop-shop for those seeking insight into the mysteries of evolution—in short, all you wanted to know about the alleged chimp to chump story arc but never got around to asking.” So the world has yet another museum dedicated to evolution, but our Creation Museum still receives more hostility than all the evolution museums combined.
  • Will we find evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence in the next 25 years? It sounds crazy, but that belief is part of what’s motivating “Project Dorothy,” a new attempt to “listen” to nearby stars for possible communications from intelligent aliens.
  • Researchers have revealed a treasure trove of ancient beasts in the Aspen, Colorado, area. So far, the find has included two mammoths (with possible evidence of a third), five mastodons, two bison, one deer, one giant ground sloth, one small reptile, and one mouse-like creature. Does the “jumbled” status of the remains indicate catastrophic burial?

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