1. PhysOrg: “New Mathematics Research Proves There’s Plenty of Time for Evolution

This week:

  1. Math proves Darwin?
  2. ET, where are you?
  3. The universe next door
  4. “您好, baby Jesus”?
  5. Preemptively expelled
  6. And Don’t Miss . . .

Did you miss it? Catch last week’s News to Note or any other!

For the first time in News to Note history, we will be taking a week off, as Christmas 2010 falls on a Saturday. But we’ll be back on Saturday, January 1, 2011, with our 2010 Year in Review edition. Don’t miss it!

A new mathematical model “has offered even more evidence of the correctness of evolutionary theory.” So how does math “prove” evolution?

Mathematician Herbert Wilf and biologist Warren Ewens, both of the University of Pennsylvania, have teamed up to research the claim that even hundreds of millions of years isn’t enough time for life to have evolved, genetically speaking. Their model purports to show mathematically that, given plausible mutation rates and a selection mechanism (akin to natural selection), there would be ample time in earth’s history for the genomes of complex life-forms to have evolved.

The team’s idea is virtually identical to an illustration originally used by Richard Dawkins more than two decades ago to argue for the plausibility of evolution. Thus, the numerous critiques of that illustration apply equally to the new research; for one prominent deconstruction see Dawkins’ weasel revisited.

The primary flaw in both Dawkins’ model and Wilf and Ewens’ is that the mutation and selection process occur in what is essentially a biological “vacuum”: a full-length genome simply exists, and the process of replication and mutation occur by some exogenous biological process. Thus, even if the genome contains no meaningful information, the model allows the genome to reproduce without difficulty—and to do so again and again, with “correct” mutations magically preserved throughout the process. In reality, a creature can only survive to reproduce if its genome controls a host of complex biological functions; in the meantime, mutated genes can wreak biological havoc even if other genes are intact.

Thus, ignoring whether the math in the paper is accurate (though we assume it is), the model is an incorrect abstraction from reality; the model is basically rigged because of its flaw. Moreover, scientists and mathematicians on both sides of the debate have put forward a range of models, each claiming to show how evolution is possible (or impossible); unfortunately, the models often seem to “talk past” one another, illustrating points of contention in the origins debate rather than actually “proving” anything.

Besides, we often make the point that even if evolution had no theoretical difficulties—even if it were entirely “plausible”—that does not indicate that it actually occurred and the Bible clearly states in Genesis that God created everything by His Word in 6 days. Simply put, “could have” does not mean “did”!

For more information:

2. BBC News: “Why Haven’t We Found Aliens Yet?

Evolutionists “know” life evolved on earth, and since earth “can’t be” unique (they say), life must have evolved elsewhere in the universe. So where is ET hiding?

Last week we reported on the supposed “mounting” evidence for extraterrestrial life, but this week BBC News’s Alex Hudson candidly asks, “[I]f extra-terrestrial life forms are abundant in the Universe . . . why have they not been in contact?” (We covered a similar story in January.)

The puzzle is outright mind-bending for evolutionists, whose estimates of earth-like planets in our galaxy (and the universe as a whole) continue to grow, buttressed by steady discoveries of new exoplanets. But all the while those listening to the stars for alien communications have endured the so-called “great silence”—a cosmic dial tone, as it were.

For instance, a famous mathematics equation developed by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961 predicted that there should be some 10,000 alien civilizations able to communicate with humans. But in a half-century of listening and searching for signs of ET, even saying that no evidence has been found might be too charitable.

Granted, those who believe in extraterrestrial life point to reasonable—albeit hard-to-falsify—difficulties in the search for extraterrestrial life. It might be that humans are more technologically advanced than other societies: that is, aliens can’t yet communicate with us. Or, by contrast, perhaps most civilizations inevitably destroy themselves once reaching a certain level of technology—meaning the aliens we could actually talk to no longer exist. Some scientists simply argue that we haven’t done enough searching yet, although this does not explain why advanced alien civilizations—if they indeed are out there—wouldn’t have done more to contact us directly at some point in human history.

Thankfully, the article points out that “the simplest answer to Fermi’s Paradox [why we can’t find ET despite the predictions] is that there is no intelligent life to search for so none has been found.” Hudson also reports the view that

[t]he human race is either an accidental blip in the Universe or we are special and the conditions we evolved in were unique. The Rare Earth hypothesis argues that because of the intricate design and infrastructure of our planet, the amount of coincidences and circumstances that must occur together make life almost impossible.

That claim neatly sidesteps the possibility of divine creation, although the word “design” betrays his evolutionary intentions. Meanwhile, comments from Drake reveal the evolutionary, atheistic motivation that is driving the search for extraterrestrial intelligence:

It’s probably the most important question there is. What does it mean to be a human being? What is our future? Are there other creatures like us? What have they become? What can evolution produce? How far can it go? It will all come out of learning of extra-terrestrials and this will certainly enrich our lives like nothing else could.

The consequences for the evolutionary worldview of not finding extraterrestrial life are far more severe than the consequences for the creation worldview of finding extraterrestrial life. But until we’ve explored the whole of the universe, evolutionists can hold onto hope even if ET hasn’t turned up yet—their faith in evolution overpowering the scientific evidence.

For more information:

3. ScienceNOW: “Cosmic Radiation Features Could Suggest Our Universe Is Not Alone

So what if we can’t find alien life in our own universe (see item #2, above)? Maybe aliens exist in the next universe over.

Although it sounds like a concept exclusive to science fiction, the idea of multiple universes has gained credibility in some scientific circles in recent years. The idea is often invoked as a possible explanation for the earth’s uniqueness—helping some escape the conclusion that the earth and our universe were supernaturally designed.

Now, scientists claim to have found “first evidence of other universes,” to borrow from the sensational headline used by MIT’s Technology Review to describe the research. A team at University College London has taken a closer look at the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, a faint glow of radiation at the edge of space interpreted as evidence of the big bang. The ScienceNOW report explains,

The algorithm [developed by the team] found data that was consistent with the type of features generated by a collision between universes. Although not a discovery as such, it is a hint that suggests that a more definitive result could be found with higher-resolution observations, such as those from the Planck satellite launched last year.

(To use a more specific yet less technical term, the team’s Stephen Feeney calls the observations “bruises” from when our universe collided with other universes.)

Both the Technology Review and the ScienceNOW coverage warn of how easy it is to find discrepancies in the CMB data; the latter source refers to a team that claimed to discover the initials “S. H.” (for physicist Stephen Hawking) in the CMB. Nonetheless, Technology Review throws caution to the wind, proclaiming, “Again, this is an extraordinary result: the first evidence of universes beyond our own.” As for us, we’ll take the more cautious route and wait for more scientists to weigh in; the research has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

For more information:

4. USA Today: “Were the Three Wise Men from China?

Might the Magi have said, “您好, baby Jesus”?

The story of the wise men—usually there are three of them—visiting Jesus shortly after His birth has become one of the indivisible parts of the Christmas story. But as with many Bible accounts, popular retellings sometimes conflate artistic flourishes with the actual scriptural account.

A new English translation of an ancient document describing the Magi could shed light on their origin and journey—if the document were accurate, but there are several problematic aspects in the writing. Known as the Revelation of the Magi, the narrative may date to the second or third century, although the actual manuscript dates from the eighth century. University of Oklahoma professor of religious studies Brent Landau discovered references to the text in his research and tracked it down to the Vatican Library archives.

It took Landau seven years to analyze the text and translate it to English, but now it appears as Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem. The story describes the Magi as an ancient mystical sect that traced its lineage back to Seth, from whom they inherited the “prophecy of ‘a star of indescribable brightness’ someday appearing and ‘heralding the birth of God in human form.’”

The text reverses several commonly held ideas about the Magi; for example, it identifies twelve (or perhaps more), not three, and notes that the word “Magi” refers to silent prayer with no relationship to magic or astrology. Also intriguing is that the Magi are said to be from the land of Shir “at the shore of the Great Ocean.” In other texts, Shir is associated with silk production, leading Landau to identify Shir as China and the Magi as Chinese.

Of course, we do not know the exact origin and authorship of the account. Nor do we know how much of the document is trustworthy: for example, the translation states that the Magi supposedly stood on a sacred mountain for days and that the star initially stood over the Garden of Eden and later transformed into a child that directed the Magi to Bethlehem. That people considered it important enough to write down and pass on suggests it may reflect some historical truths about the Magi and their journey; and insofar as it does not contradict Scripture itself or seem too fanciful (as some sections do), it can—with some diligence and healthy skepticism—supplement what we know about the wise men from Matthew 2.

For more information:

5. Louisville Courier-Journal: “Job Candidate Sues UK, Claiming Religion Cost Him the Post

It’s the latest case of a scientist “expelled”—or, in this case, never let in—because of his religious views.

You would think astronomer Martin Gaskell had sufficiently distanced himself from “wacko” young-earth creationists to be hired for a scientific role at a major public university—in this case, an astronomy position at the University of Kentucky. Gaskell had claimed that young-earth creation (as defended by News to Note, the Creation Museum, and elsewhere) is “very bad scientifically and theologically” and “actually hinders some scientists becoming Christians.”

That wasn’t enough for his would-be colleagues at the University of Kentucky, however, who shot down Gaskell’s candidacy on what appear to be primarily (if not exclusively) religious, rather than professional, grounds. The Courier-Journal quotes excerpts from faculty e-mails that warned, among other things, that Gaskell was “potentially evangelical” and a “creationist”—apparently misunderstanding the chasm of difference separating old-earth from young-earth creationist views. Another faculty member claimed hiring Gaskell would be a “disaster . . . [we] might as well have folks from the Creation Museum get involved with UK’s science outreach.”

The head of the search committee even claimed the university was rejecting a “superbly qualified” candidate due to “religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy,” and that this rejection “repudiated any claim to honoring the principles of diversity that are so piously proclaimed on this campus.” That individual has since retracted his claim, however, and points to genuine concerns over unrelated aspects of Gaskell’s candidacy.

Obviously it is impossible for us to know what really happened in the case—viz., assessing the counterfactual of whether Gaskell would have been hired were it not for his religious views. Still, the fact that members of the hiring committee are on record questioning Gaskell’s candidacy on religious grounds—especially considering his stance against biblical creation—shows what an uphill professional battle is in store for any scientist who might question evolution.

For more information:

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • New evidence of water underneath the Martian surface has encouraged scientists’ thinking about how human explorers or colonizers might survive. Unsurprisingly, it has also fueled more speculation about possible underground life on Mars.
  • A sad reminder of the status of the unborn child in modern society: a couple has (thankfully) decided not to have an abortion only after taking an online poll. Although there is some controversy over whether the couple genuinely intended to let the poll results determine their decision, the very notion—and the fact that someone tried to influence the vote in favor of abortion—is sickening.
  • More inter-species hybrids are expected as Arctic ice melts, report PhysOrg and National Geographic News. Such hybrids as “pizzly” bears (a hybrid grizzly–polar bear) remind us of the original created kinds modern species descend from.
  • Not only is the origin of life a near mystery for evolutionists, but how it could have survived the so-called “snowball earth” ice age has puzzled researchers. A new study suggests that some microbes may have survived the cold inside ice-free ocean pockets.
  • Was the Flood account inspired by the “sinking” of a great floodplain into the Persian Gulf? That’s the latest hypothesis, but like other “explanations” of Noah’s Flood as local, it fails to comport with the biblical account.
  • Critics of Answers in Genesis continue to misrepresent its involvement in the building of a full-size Noah’s Ark in northern Kentucky, owned by the Ark Encounter LLC (AiG will operate the attraction, the Ark Encounter). No money will be taken out of the state budget to fund its construction (see Feedback: Taxpayers Will Not Be Paying to Build the Ark Encounter), yet certain outlets continue to make that false charge (see, for example, www.bipps.org/article.php/2421). When the Ark opens, the people who will pay any taxes related to the project will be the Ark Encounter visitors, who will pay sales tax at the attraction, and the state will rebate a portion of the sales tax back to the Ark Encounter LLC (based on meeting performance standards). Ultimately, the Ark Encounter, projected to attract 1.6 million visitors in the first year, will add millions of dollars to state coffers each year, not take away as is often misreported, and will see 14,000 people employed in jobs in the region that are generated by the Ark project (who are taxpayers themselves).

For more information: Get Answers

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