1. MSNBC: “Northern Kentucky Lands Noah’s Ark Park

In case you haven’t heard, Answers in Genesis is partnering with Ark Encounter LLC to build what might be called the Creation Museum’s sibling: a $150 million Noah’s Ark-themed experience also to be located in northern Kentucky.

Ark Encounter will be a totally unique theme park centered on a full-size Ark, built to the dimensions commanded of Noah in Genesis 6. But beyond the Ark, the park will feature a Tower of Babel area, an aviary, and much more.

Scheduled to open in 2014, Ark Encounter is a $150 million project that will be jointly funded by for-profit Ark Encounter LLC and non-profit Answers in Genesis. The latter, which is parent to both News to Note and the Creation Museum, will raise approximately $25 million of the total through donations. Additionally, the park may receive appropriate state tax incentives offered through Kentucky’s Tourism Development Act given that the construction and operation will bring thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly, as well as tourist dollars to the local economy.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear helped unveil plans for the park on Wednesday, saying, “We are excited to join with the Ark Encounter group as it seeks to provide this unique, family friendly tourist attraction to the Commonwealth. Bringing new jobs to Kentucky is my top priority, and with the estimated 900 jobs this project will create, I am happy about the economic impact this project will have on the Northern Kentucky region.”

Answers in Genesis will run the park when it becomes operational, with the success of the Creation Museum part of the motivation for Ark Encounter. “We are very pleased to be a part of this new project,” said Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham. “AiG has been blessed to see the Creation Museum host over one million guests in three years. Based on our experience and success operating the large, state-of-the-art Creation Museum, our board believes the time is right to partner with the Ark Encounter in building a full-scale Noah's Ark. We hope that this fun and educational complex called the Ark Encounter will become another popular tourist destination for the state.”

The announcement unsurprisingly launched a wave of media coverage—as well as criticism from many of the same individuals who opposed the construction of the Creation Museum. The coverage will become even wider this weekend, as the New York Times and the Times of London prepare to print their Ark Encounter stories.

News to Note will provide ongoing coverage of the project when appropriate, but for a wealth of information on the project—including images of the planned layout for the site, answers to frequently asked questions, video of the announcement, a blog devoted to the project, and information on how to donate—visit the official Ark Encounter website at ArkEncounter.com.

2. BBC News: “Arsenic-Loving Bacteria May Help in Hunt for Alien Life

We reported in February and October 2009 on the quest to find “aliens” on earth. This week’s news? They’ve found them.

The microorganisms aren’t quite what most people imagine when they hear “aliens,” especially since the life-forms are from earth. But the organisms can use arsenic to function in place of phosphorus, a biological ability both novel and, well, alien to life as we know it—or, rather, knew it.

The bacterium was found in California’s strange Mono Lake, a chemically abnormal lake home that has higher-than-normal levels of arsenic. Although arsenic is chemically similar to phosphorus, an element long thought to be crucial for life, arsenic is usually toxic. Nonetheless, researchers have speculated that arsenic-based life might exist on earth, arguing that if so, it would force a major revision in our ideas about what basic elements life requires.

In this case, the bacteria did not use arsenic naturally, but instead adapted to use it in a laboratory setting as researchers increased the level of arsenic in its diet. Eventually, the bacteria began using the arsenic as a normal part of their metabolic and cellular processes—whereas most organisms would have died. Still, the bacteria reportedly “thrived best” on a phosphorus diet.

In that sense, although the discovery of a life-form that can live on arsenic is fascinating, it falls short of predictions that we might find a “shadow biosphere” of life-forms based on arsenic that (allegedly) evolved separately from phosphorus-based life. Arizona State University astrobiologist Paul Davies, one of the scientists behind the research, explained, “At the moment we have no idea if life is just a freak, bizarre accident which is confined to earth or whether it is a natural part of a fundamentally biofriendly universe in which life pops up wherever there are earth-like conditions.” He added candidly, “Although it is fashionable to support the latter view, we have zero evidence in favour of it.”

So while some may see in the discovery more evidence that “aliens” may be out there (albeit genuine extraterrestrials), it in fact offers less evidence for the possibility of a unique form of life than some scientists had hoped for. Further, learning that life can live on a slightly different chemical cocktail does nothing to show that life of any sort can evolve; the two are distinct questions. Finally, and as we pointed out previously, given that the evolutionary origin of life is a dubious speculation (for creationists) and not well understood problem (for evolutionists), positing a separate form of life that evolved independently would raise more questions than it would answer and only cast further doubt on the evolutionary enterprise.

For more information:

3. BBC News: “‘Trillions’ of Earths Orbit Red Stars in Older Galaxies

Far from being one of a kind, might the earth be one of many trillion?

A new estimate of the number of stars in the universe has upped astronomers’ guesses of how many earth-like planets exist outside our own solar system, BBC News reports. The new numbers are based on observations that show important differences between other galaxies and our own.

A research team led by Yale astrophysicist Pieter van Dokkum used Hawaii’s Keck telescope to make the discovery, which showed that galaxies thought to be older than the Milky Way contain more “red dwarf”-type stars. Red dwarfs are stars that are smaller and dimmer than our own sun. Because they give off relatively little light, only with more powerful telescopes have scientists been able to detect them.

Based on existing ideas about planet formation, Van Dokkum’s team concluded that more stars means more planets. Furthermore, since red dwarf stars and the galaxies the team studied are thought to be older than our own, some astronomers hope intelligent life may have had time to evolve on orbiting planets.

“There are possibly trillions of earths orbiting these stars,” explained Van Dokkum. “Red dwarfs are typically more than 10 billion years old and so have been around long enough for complex life to evolve on planets around them.”

In addition to fueling evolutionary astrobiologists’ hopes of finding life in space, the finding offers an alternative to the popular idea of “dark matter,” which was intended to account for certain astrophysical findings that contradicted astrophysicists’ calculations. When factored in, these previously undetected red dwarfs may rectify the difference between observations and calculations, thus putting “dark matter” to rest.

For more information:

4. ScienceDaily: “Plant Clock Gene Also Works in Human Cells

Evolutionists often emphasize our genetic similarity to chimpanzees, but our genetic connections don’t end there.

The correspondence of human and chimp genes is often used as evidence that we share a common ancestor. Creationists point out, however, that such similarities also make sense in light of a common designer.

New research reminds us that many of our genes resemble not only those found in primates, but also those identified in many other animals and even plants. Plant biologists at the University of California–Davis have uncovered another genetic connection in the DNA of the Arabidopsis plant. The gene helps regulate the plant’s circadian clock, an internal, biologically driven clock that is found in many plants, animals, and fungi. For example, in humans, the circadian clock helps determine our bodies’ natural sleep cycles.

The circadian clocks found across so many forms of life are often put together quite differently, despite how similar their ultimate function is. Nonetheless, the researchers identified a single gene in Arabidopsis that seems to work exactly like an equivalent gene in humans. Even more interesting, the plant and human genes were shown to function so similarly as to stand in for one another. The scientists had cultured human cells with a deficient copy of the gene. When it was replaced with the Arabidopsis gene, the human cells worked correctly. Likewise, working copies of the human version of the gene successfully corrected Arabidopsis cells with broken copies of the gene.

Such perfect similarity between a human gene and an equivalent plant gene—to the point where they can be swapped in and out successfully—might seem like solid evidence for evolution. But there’s a big problem: whereas evolutionists think chimpanzees and humans share a (relatively) recent common ancestor, animals and plants supposedly diverged long ago, and the rest of their respective circadian clocks work very differently. The team therefore explains the gene similarity as a case of “convergent evolution.” That term is invoked when similar biological functions, organs, or genes are found in two organisms whose most recent common ancestor “shouldn’t” have had the shared feature—and, thus, shared ancestry can’t explain the commonality.

The big problem with convergent evolution is that as we discover more and more alleged examples, many of which are highly complex, a puzzle arises: if it takes millions of years of chance and natural selection for such genetically complicated features to evolve even just once, how likely is it that they evolved more than once? For that reason, common design is shown to be a superior explanation: God re-used certain genetic or other biological features when it was appropriate, without regard for whether it might occasionally look like common ancestry or not.

For more information:

5. The Telegraph: “Tony Blair Defends Religious Faith

While not famous first and foremost as a defender of religion, former British prime minister Tony Blair stood up for religion as a force for good in the world in a debate with atheist Christopher Hitchens.

The debate in Toronto, Canada, saw Blair argue for the positive impact of religion even though some “people commit horrific acts of evil in the name of religion.” Hitchens argued to the contrary that the theist’s world is a “celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea.”

The arguments tackled such issues as whether spirituality leads to more compassion than evil, with Blair pointing to the work of faith-based organizations working around the globe. Hitchens, who toured the Creation Museum earlier this year, countered, “Religion forces nice people to do unkind things, and also makes intelligent people say stupid things.” In his view, the existence of a God makes humans “objects in a cruel experiment.”

What’s interesting is the instrumental approach to the debate, where the existence of God and the importance of religion is judged less by truth and falsehood and more by its consequences for the world and individual rationality. In this frame of thinking, even an atheist may see religion as a force for good, while a theist might find religion generally problematic. Of course, we still side with Blair, especially given Hitchens’ propensity to argue that one can only be rational when free from theism. We argue, based on Scripture, that rationality (including logic and science) only make sense in a world created by a rational God who has designed the world in consistent, knowable ways and who has revealed Himself to us through His Word.

For more information:

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • It’s a “paradox” in evolutionary views of the origin of life: “How could cell membranes have evolved without biochemical machines to manufacture the building blocks?” That question is asked in Technology Review coverage of a new idea that the first cells originated as air bubbles inside “armored” clay balls. “Of course, there is no proof that life on Earth evolved in armoured bubbles,” the story admits, adding, “but it is yet another indicator that the conditions in which life can flourish are more common and more likely to form than anyone could have imagine [sic] just a few years ago.” But as they said, the evidence for whether life can flourish in such an environment—let alone appear by chance—still lacks evidence!
  • Scientists at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst have watched a microorganism “evolve” in the lab, even analyzing the organism’s DNA and identifying the mutation that permitted the adaptation. But the research was based on artificial (laboratory produced) conditions, meaning that the mutant bacteria may not have been as successful in normal environments; even if they were, a beneficial mutation is not the same thing as a mutation that adds genetic information.
  • GJ 1214b, an exoplanet discovered just last year, is the first so-called “Super-earth” found to have an atmosphere. Although scientists aren’t sure, water is a possible component of the atmosphere—which if confirmed may have evolution-accepting researchers more interested in the planet as a possible home for extraterrestrial life.
  • Did the decline of ancient rainforests “pave the way” for the rise of reptiles, as a new study suggests? Or is it instead a misreading of the fossil record that smuggles millions of years of history into fossils and rocks that show no such thing?
  • A new study has shown that mercury contamination in the diet of ibis chicks can reverse the birds’ normal sexual orientation: more than half of a group of the birds that were fed mercury-laced diets tried to mate with other males. While we certainly would not say this explains homosexuality in humans, it adds a further qualification to the argument that homosexual behavior is supposedly normal in nature.
  • Last month we reported on research suggesting the earth could have been watery from its creation, which comports with what Genesis teaches (although the researchers did not approach the problem from a young-earth framework!). Research soon to be published in Astrophysics and Space Science supports the same conclusion, moving the old-earth model ever so slightly closer to the young-earth model.

For more information: Get Answers

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