1. AP: “Evidence for ET Is Mounting Daily, but Not Proven

Is the evidence for extraterrestrial life “mounting daily”? It’s the first we’ve heard of it!

The idea that life exists beyond earth is no trivial claim. Like many other grand claims, if true it would in many ways change humans’ perception of our place in the universe. And also like other grand claims, it requires a clear verdict of the evidence to be judged true.

To the contrary, little more than a century ago, many thought Mars was inhabited by intelligent life; but in a half-century of space exploration, the solar system has turned up only a smattering of hotly debated evidence that life may have once existed elsewhere—a far cry from actual extraterrestrial life, let alone intelligent life.

Yet for Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein, that smattering has become “mounting” evidence. “Lately, a handful of new discoveries make it seem more likely that we are not alone,” he writes. The discoveries include:

  • Scientists tripled previous estimates of the number of stars in the universe—we reported on that last week.
  • Other scientists discovered a microbe allegedly able to subsist on arsenic—we also reported on that last week, and we report further this week (see below).
  • Finally, astronomers have found a “potentially habitable” exoplanet—we reported on this news two months back.

While Borenstein quotes several scientists who are optimistic about finding extraterrestrial life, the leaps in logic—and blind faith—are more glaring than the supposed evidence. While the report notes in passing that most of the above discoveries are still contested in scientific circles (for example, that “potentially habitable” exoplanet may not even exist), far more space is given to researchers like NASA’s Carl Pilcher, who enthuses, “The evidence is just getting stronger and stronger. I think anybody looking at this evidence is going to say, ‘There’s got to be life out there.’”

“Got to be”? Does that sound like an endorsement of cautious, conservative, scientific skepticism? To us it sounds like something else is going on. A clue may be found in Borenstein’s relation of comments by SETI astronomer Seth Shostak, who “said that given the mounting evidence, to believe now that [e]arth is the only place harboring life is essentially like believing in miracles.” Shostak added wryly, “And astronomers tend not to believe in miracles.”

That nugget of an idea, expressed sarcastically by Shostak, seems to be the driving force behind astronomers’ faith in ET: if the emergence of life is the consequence of essentially random processes (e.g., the formation of stellar systems, a planet in the “just right” zone of a star, chemicals organizing in just the right way on the backs of crystals or in clay bubbles—all leading to the first cell), and if we discover a seemingly infinite number of worlds with all manner of variation, it’s almost a statistically impossibility that earth could be the only home of intelligent life. It’s a sort of astrobiological corollary of the Copernican principle—that, whatever the evidence may be, the earth and its life just can’t be unique. Thus, evolutionists are painted into a corner because the philosophical consequences of finding no life beyond earth would serve a death-blow to their worldview.

It’s not that the latest evidence goes against the ET hypothesis; indeed, the discoveries are fascinating, and the empirical question of life beyond earth can’t be answered given how little of the solar system (let alone the galaxy, let alone the universe) we’ve explored. But the conclusions so vastly exceed the still-controversial evidence that it’s hard to imagine an objective observer calling the claims anything other than a leap of faith.

As we’ve written before, the Bible does not teach that God did not create life beyond earth; it is silent on that possibility. Yet, reading Scripture holistically, the implication is that earth (and especially humanity) is at the center of the cosmic stage. That view, combined with the lack of evidence for either evolution or extraterrestrial life, leaves us quite doubtful about ET—truly skeptical, unlike many modern scientists who have put their faith in evolution.

For more information:

2. LiveScience: “Debate Over Discovery of Arsenic-Based Life Gets Lively

Last week we reported on hot news that “alien” life had been discovered—albeit aliens from earth. But since then the widely reported research has come under attack.

The news was that researchers had discovered a form of life in a California lake that is able to live off arsenic. Although arsenic is typically poisonous to life, it is similar to an element crucial for life—phosphorus. For that reason, scientists had long speculated that some life-forms, whether on earth or elsewhere, might be able to live off arsenic in lieu of phosphorus.

While some of the researchers’ conclusions about the arsenic-consuming bacteria remain, other, more dramatic conclusions have been challenged by other scientists. For instance, the claim that the bacteria were able to use arsenic as part of their DNA was called into question, as was the claim that the bacteria were subsisting entirely on arsenic.

The challengers note that the growth medium for the bacteria may have been contaminated with just enough phosphorus to keep the bacteria alive, giving the false impression that the bacteria were living on arsenic. Further, perhaps arsenic was only “stuck to” the outside of the bacterial DNA, rather than serving as a functional part of the genome.

The original researchers have stuck by their work, pointing out, among other things, that even if the growth medium had been contaminated by phosphorus, it would have been an amount insufficient to allow the bacteria to grow as they did. Nevertheless, a reader points us to one scientist’s blog entry concerning the study. The entry—some of which the scientist has transformed into a letter to the journal Science—concludes, “I don’t know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they’re unscrupulously pushing NASA’s ‘There’s life in outer space!’ agenda.”

We’ll let that sink in without further comment!

For more information:

3. BBC News: “Crocs Dispel ‘Living Fossil’ Myth

Long called a “living fossil,” a new report argues that crocodilians are actually quite distinct from their petrified parentage.

Scientists apply the nickname “living fossil” to creatures with us today that very closely resemble fossils found “far back” in the fossil record (i.e., in layers deemed very old). Sometimes, the organisms were known only from the fossil record, their extinction taught as scientific fact. That is, until they’re found alive and well in the present, as in the case of the coelacanth fish.

Crocodilians no longer deserve that term, however, according to a new report published by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. The scientists coming to that conclusion have finished their analysis of a fossil species named Simosuchus clarki, found a decade ago in Madagascar. Unlike modern crocodilians (a taxonomic order including crocodiles, alligators, gharials, and caimans), S. clarki has a short, blunt snout, a short tail, and compact body—making it quite distinct from today’s crocodilians. And unlike the crocodilians we know, S. clarki would have lived inland in a “semi-arid grassland habitat.”

The researchers conclude that these major differences indicate how much change evolution has brought to the crocodilian order. But how do the scientists know that S. clarki is indeed the evolutionary ancestor of crocodilians, as opposed to being a separate lineage? The answer, of course, is that they don’t really know; the framework of evolution forces the conclusion. Taking away that framework, we can see S. clarki as a separate lineage from the same reptilian kind or from a different kind entirely. Either way, the fact that modern crocodilians have changed little over supposed millions of years keeps them as prime examples of living fossils.

For more information:

4. Smithsonian.com: “The Top Ten Daily Consequences of Having Evolved

Are the evidences of evolution walking around with us every day? A recent “top ten” list answers in the affirmative.

“[T]he evolution of homo sapiens [sic] has left behind some glaring, yet innately human, imperfections,” reports Smithsonian.com’s Rob Dunn. His list argues that “[o]ur own bodies are worse off than most simply because of the many differences between the wilderness in which we evolved and the modern world in which we live.” So what are these imperfections we walk around with, and do they prove evolution?

Among the items Dunn marshals are cellular diseases, hiccups, backaches, goosebumps, and wisdom teeth—many of which we’ve addressed elsewhere on this site (see Setting the Record Straight on Vestigial Organs). He argues, for example, that “[t]he letter S, for all its beauty, is not meant to support weight and so our backs fail, consistently and painfully.” That’s the evolutionary dogma—but see Back problems: how Darwinism misled researchers for the creationist view.

Some of the examples, such as wisdom teeth and obesity, ignore the fact that both evolutions and creationists think that history has seen “changes in how we use our bodies and structure our societies.” Thus, when Dunn points out that “[i]n much of the modern world, we have more food than we require, but our hunger and cravings continue,” he is not articulating a logical conclusion exclusively held by evolutionists!

On other points, Dunn relies on an evolutionary rationale that makes sense, yet is not superior to the creationist rationale. For example, on humans’ strange (to the evolutionist) lack of fur (actually we have body hair, just not much), he suggests that hairlessness developed because of parasites infestations that became common in our furrier ancestors after they began living in groups. Hence, we were forced to clothe ourselves. But humans were created uniquely by God in the Garden of Eden and originally needed no clothing (Genesis 2:25); that changed after sin.

Almost all cases of “imperfections” (the presupposes evolution in most cases) chalked up to evolution can be reconciled easily with creation or the curse of God on the whole creation as a result of Adam’s sin. Some, of course, are not imperfections at all but merely appear to be because of misunderstandings about a part of the human body (e.g., the myth that the appendix has no function). Others trace back to changes in human lifestyle that have nothing to do with molecules-to-man “evolution” (e.g., obesity). And even examples given as evidence of “bad design” miss the point that creation is cursed and was changed after the sin of Adam and Eve. Thus disease, for example, should not be seen as somehow part of a perfect creation—because it never was! Nor is it evidence of poor design, but rather of how the consequences of sin have corrupted God’s perfect design and left us where we are today.

For more information:

5. New York Times: “In Kentucky, Noah’s Ark Theme Park Is Planned

The media has provided ongoing coverage of Ark Encounter, the new project co-sponsored by Answers in Genesis. And—no surprise—the project is increasingly surrounded by debate.

We introduced News to Note readers to Ark Encounter last week. The Noah’s Ark-centered theme park will be another family friendly vacation destination in northern Kentucky designed to complement our Creation Museum, about 40 miles to the south, combining “edu-tainment” with a presentation of historical events from the Old Testament.

Most of the debate following the project’s announcement last week has concerned Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s support of the project—an alleged violation of the separation of church and state. But in the governor’s perspective, “The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion. They elected me governor to create jobs.” Specifically, Ark Encounter stands to benefit from tax incentives—in the form of rebated sales taxes, offered after a project opens —designed to encourage investment and job creation in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Kentucky’s Tourism Development Act will help the project recoup investment costs through partial sales tax relief. (Some news reports erroneously refer to government “donations” to the project; for a refutation of the false reporting that the Ark Encounter will take money out of the state budget, see yesterday’s feedback article on our website, linked below.)

But does the law permit the government to extend tax incentives to a project which contains religious elements? The New York Times quotes William Dexter, general counsel for Kentucky’s tourism cabinet, and Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California–Irvine School of Law, on opposite sides of the issue.

We’re certainly not constitutional scholars at News to Note, but it seems to us that denying the Ark Encounter tax incentives—incentives that an otherwise equivalent non-religious project would get—would be an unconstitutional bias against religion. As the governor declared at his press conference, his state’s Tourism Development Act will not allow discrimination regarding a tourist attraction’s theme. We contend that to deny the Ark Encounter the partial sales tax rebate is akin to arguing that church vans can’t use publicly funded highways, or that water cleaned by publicly funded facilities can’t be served at the Creation Museum. The strong opposition begs the question: are opponents in Kentucky showing more concern about the themes that will be presented at Ark Encounter than they are about the 14,000 jobs created in the region when the project opens, but which may not materialize if Ark Encounter is not built in their high-unemployment state?

For more information:

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • “Evangelical Christians, in particular, are now one of America’s best-educated demographics,” notes a New York Times column on the changing dynamics of the culture war. Maybe that comment will help chip away at the frequent (and false) caricature of evangelicals as intellectually deficient.
  • Along similar lines, Answers in Genesis CCO Mark Looy wrote the Louisville Courier-Journal a letter of correction in reply to an editorial that had inaccurately claimed, “No serious scientist upholds” young-earth creationism.
  • Religion makes people happier—but it’s not because of God, as LiveScience coverage of the news gleefully notes. Survey results revealed a happiness gap between the religious and the irreligious but found the relationship was most strongly associated with the social networks individuals build through churches. To some, that seems to imply that there is no God, but obviously that goes way beyond the survey results.
  • Was it a horse? A dragon? Or both? The fossil Hippodraco scutodens—the “shield-toothed horse-dragon”—was discovered in 2004 in Utah and described in a recent issue of PLoS ONE. So did our ancestors interact with this “dragon”?
  • Hobbits” on the Indonesian island of Flores may have interacted with giant storks, fossil wing bones suggest. The find is further evidence that our (fully) human ancestors survived among giant animals—as we do today, of course.

For more information: Get Answers

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