1. ScienceNOW: “Can a Simple Model Explain the Advent of Cells?

Theoretical biophysicists have built a mathematical model showing how “protocells” could have originated from simple chemical interactions. Does the model teach us more about evolution’s plausibility or evolutionists’ faith?

How did nonliving matter turn into self-reproducing organisms? The answer to that question underpins the entire theory of evolution—and therefore the sole atheistic explanation of how life came to be on earth—given that Darwinian evolution cannot work until self-reproducing entities exist.

Despite the foundational importance of that question to the Darwinian project, questions abound while answers are few. ScienceNOW reporter Tim Wogan explains that “Under the right conditions, some proteins and other complex molecules can produce copies of themselves by purely chemical means . . . [but] decades of experiments and theoretical models show that in a simple chemical solution, these bad mutations would accumulate over time and inevitably snuff out reproduction.”

So decades of experiments and models offer no solution to the foundational question of Darwinism—but billions don’t doubt evolution? Wogan articulates the odd non sequitur of a justification: “Of course, nature found a way around this problem”—assuming that our existence proves life did, in fact, build itself from scratch.

Wogan is reporting on recent work by University of Tokyo biophysicists Atsushi Kamimura and Kunihiko Kaneko, who have introduced a new model of how protocells could begin to reproduce without becoming quickly overcome by mutant components. The duo report in Physical Review Letters on computer simulations showing how protocells could drift apart, thereby preventing the aforementioned “snuffing out” of the reproductive process.

Is the faith of evolutionists justified? Wogan concludes, “In fact, in Kamimura and Kaneko’s model, the two molecules are assumed to be nothing more than spheres that somehow catalyze each other's reproduction. That’s a long way from DNA and RNA.” Indeed, it’s a long chain of purported events from basic elements and molecules to the simplest organic molecules to more complex organic compounds to something resembling RNA or DNA—and then to RNA or DNA surrounded by a cell and containing meaningful information that allows the cell to reproduce itself accurately. Until such explanations exist (and we believe they never will), the intensity of acceptance of evolution—rather than truly scientific skepticism—betrays the faith of evolutionists.

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2. PhysOrg: “Cuckoos Evolve to Fool Angry Birds

Have Australian birds “taken a new evolutionary step”? Or is this another cuckoo example of “evolution” in action?

Australian cuckoo birds are strange creatures. The adults lay their eggs in nests built by other birds, then disappear and leave the hatchlings to fend for themselves. By no means timid, the newly born cuckoos—finding themselves in some other bird’s nest—do their best to oust the young birds that belong in the nest, taking it over for themselves.

The seemingly nasty trick that enables the chicks to accomplish the nest takeover is that cuckoo eggs are the same color as the eggs that belong in the nest; the bird that built the nest can’t distinguish the cuckoo eggs from her own. However, once they’re born, the cuckoos must work fast to force out the other young—if not, the other birds’ mother will kill the cuckoos.

Australian National University researchers have identified a new development in cuckoo deception, which they have labeled an example of evolution. Field experiments have confirmed the existence of cuckoo hatchlings whose color is closer to the color of the other chicks (which may be yellow, black, or pink, depending on the species of host bird). Thus, the adult birds cannot identify—and kill—the cuckoos until it’s too late.

“We have demonstrated that bronze-cuckoo nestlings have co-evolved to be striking visual mimics of their hosts,” said biologist Naomi Langmore. “Host parents will kill a parasite hatchling within the first two days of its life. But by matching the color of the host young, the cuckoos are accepted by their ‘parents.’”

Once again, this may be an example of natural selection in action that has been relabeled “evolution” in action. True, the population of cuckoos is changing, which we may think of as “evolution” in one sense of the word. But without evidence that the color deception is due to an increase in genetic information, this “evolution” offers no evidence for the reality of molecules-to-man evolution.

In related news, a study of South American Corydoras catfish has concluded that groups of the fish that look quite similar may actually represent several species. The fish are said to have “evolved” nearly identical colors and patterns. In this case, even if we know the fish have converged to this similarity over time (the press release offers no details on the history of the fish appearance), processes like natural selection—not evolution—may explain the change.

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3. ScienceNOW: “First Earth-Sized Exoplanet Discovered

Scientists presenting at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society have revealed the smallest exoplanet discovered so far: a rocky planet almost the same size as earth.

The planet, in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, orbits a star known as Kepler-10. Scientists used the Kepler telescope to identify a 0.015 percent decrease in the brightness of Kepler-10 every 0.84 earth days, indicating the orbit of a planet.

But with an orbit of once every 0.84 days, the planet—known as Kepler-10b—must lie extremely close to its sun. Astronomers estimate the distance to be only a twentieth as far from its star as Mercury is from our sun, implying a hot, inhospitable place. Scientists used more telescopic data to estimate the planet’s size as 1.42 times earth’s and a density nearly nine times earth’s.

The team estimates that the sunny side of Kepler-10b—the side that always faces its star—rages at 1833 K (2840˚F). On top of that, an intense stellar wind dooms any lingering evolutionist hopes for life on the planet.

The march of earth “twins” thus continues, with each newly announced twin slightly more similar to earth than the last. Nonetheless, all exoplanets discovered so far are woefully unlike earth, preventing meaningful discussions about alien life—although evolutionist hopes remain high. Even if we do discover a true twin of earth, creationists can be thankful for how earth is “just right” on every dimension.

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4. National Geographic News: “Fish as Good as College Students in Numbers Test

In April 2009 we reported on a study showing that mosquito fish can perform basic math tasks (specifically, counting and comparing numbers of symbols). New research goes a step farther, suggesting that mosquito fish have the numerical skills of college students.

As with the earlier research, the study was led by psychobiologist Christian Agrillo of the University of Padova. Agrillo’s team began in the same manner as in its previous experiment: training mosquito fish to swim through doors that divided up the fish tank, with one doorway leading to other fish (an incentive for mosquito fish, which are highly social). The scientists placed varying numbers of geometric shapes by each doorway, then trained the fish to associate the “right” door (the one leading to their friends) with a specific number of shapes. (Which geometric shapes were used varied throughout the experiment, but the number leading to the other fish remained constant.)

In the previous experiment, the number of shapes labeling each door was relatively small: single-digit numbers, such as four or eight. In the new experiment, the researchers challenged the fish by dramatically increasing the number of shapes beside the doors into the hundreds. After an initial adjustment period, the fish again learned to successfully distinguish the numbers and select the correct door.

“It was kind of funny, most of them appeared to be surprised when we switched from small numbers to hundreds,” Agrillo explained. “However, after a short while they started to solve the task as well.”

The experimenters also found that, unsurprisingly, the fish were more successful when the ratio between the number of shapes on the correct and incorrect doors was large—for example, 1:2 or 2:3. When the ratio was changed to 3:4 (and, hence, the numbers of shapes were closer together), the fish could no longer distinguish between doors.

Next, the team designed a similar experiment for undergraduate students. Participants were forced to determine the difference between large numbers in two seconds, too little time to allow conscious counting. Although the human participants were more successful overall, their success rate, like the mosquito fishes’, declined as the ratio between numbers increased to 3:4.

“You just don’t expect interesting results like this when dealing with animals like fish,” Agrillo said. “We thought this was really incredible.” Although the scientists argue that a common ancestor explains the number-processing abilities of fish, humans, and other vertebrates, the research offers just as much support for common design.

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5. PhysOrg: “Evolution’s Revolution was the Naturalist’s, Though Initial Idea Wasn’t

Creationists have occasionally pointed out that Charles Darwin wasn’t uniquely responsible for inventing the theory of evolution—not to belittle the British scientist, but rather to encourage a better understanding of the history of the idea.

Evolutionary biologist Ned Friedman, the new director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, discussed some of the history of evolutionary thought at a recent talk kicking off a new lecture series at the arboretum. In his talk, titled “A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors,” Friedman argued that Darwin’s most prominent contribution was in popularizing the idea of evolution by making it more readable—and thereby “revolutionary.”

Darwin himself was forced to acknowledge other progenitors of evolutionary theory in a section of later printings of On the Origin of Species, Friedman explained. By the sixth edition, some thirty-four other individuals were mentioned; according to Friedman, historians now believe that as many as sixty other thinkers preceded Darwin in writing about evolution. This included Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin.

What set Darwin and contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace apart from most was their emphasis on and exposition of natural selection as the mechanism driving evolution. But Darwin was uniquely capable and driven to “convince others of the correctness of the idea,” Friedman said.

In fact, understanding natural selection and biological evolution as separate ideas—closely related in many ways, but ultimately distinct—is crucial for properly understanding modern creationists’ biological models. For natural selection to drive the sort of progressive, “mollusks to man” evolution that Darwin envisioned, organisms must be capable of generating complex new anatomical features through natural processes, such as through genetic mutations. Without this capability, “evolution” can only proceed in a horizontal or downward direction, resulting in new species that are no more complex than their ancestors—and undermining the Darwinian narrative of life’s history.

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And Don’t Miss . . .

  • The flak continues to fly over our forthcoming Ark Encounter. Professors take aim at the project in a (local) Middletown Journal op-ed, but claims like this show they haven’t done their homework: “Even the most elementary knowledge of biogeography and evolutionary biology, not to mention common sense, would argue against the possibility of getting millions of diverse species from different continents organized into one place, at one time, to get on an ark[.]” (Noah was not instructed to take millions of species on board the Ark, nor did he have to go out and get the animals he did take.) Meanwhile, a Washington Post article discusses the “green” building techniques that will be a part of the Ark Encounter construction. Amid mostly harmless statements, the reporter says—without clarification—of Answers in Genesis, “They also believe in unicorns.” While we accept the Bible’s teaching that there was once a creature known as a “unicorn” (not necessarily the same as modern representations of the unicorn), saying so without explaining this distinction and our nuanced view is journalistically underhanded. And speaking of nuance, an opinion piece from the left-leaning Guardian on the Ark Encounter calls the project an “an interesting and encouraging development within American fundamentalism.” You can read AiG President Ken Ham’s blog this weekend about recent media coverage of the Ark Encounter.
  • A Lexington Herald-Leader letter by Answers in Genesis scientists David Menton, Georgia Purdom, and Andrew Snelling strikes back at a problem-riddled piece that previously appeared in the paper, maligning young-earth creation in general and the Ark Encounter project specifically.
  • Neanderthals did not have shorter life expectancies than “modern” humans, LiveScience reports. This undercuts the argument that Neanderthals died out because of a short life span.
  • The Associated Press reports on the firing of John Freshwater, the Mount Vernon, Ohio, science teacher accused of burning the image of a cross into a student’s arm. (We last reported on the situation last January). While the reality behind the accusation was much more mundane than biased headlines suggested, the teacher was apparently let go for such actions as “keeping a Bible on his desk” and “checking out religious texts from the school library and leaving them on his desk.” Strange—we heard no outcry on Freshwater’s behalf from the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • Did Japanese scientists “evolve” a singing mouse? Rather, by cross-breeding mice that had been (artificially) genetically modified to generate a higher rate of mutations, they merely stumbled upon one poor mouse whose normal “voice” has mutated to make a sound more like a bird’s. This is an example of “horizontal” genetic change, altering—with human help—a characteristic the mouse already had rather than introducing a complex new feature.
  • An ancient wine press—did it belong to Noah (Genesis 9:20)? Of course, this is only wild speculation; the dating does not line up with when Noah lived, and even if it did, there would be no way to prove who the press belonged to.

For more information: Get Answers

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