“Lucy,” the name given to partial australopithecine remains found in Ethiopia in 1974, may seem like old news. But new research suggests that “if Lucy were alive today, she could fit in high heels or march for miles without breaking her feet”—evidence, researchers claim, that Lucy was an experienced upright walker.
As one of the most well-known icons of evolution, Lucy has been the subject of considerable creationist scrutiny. Scientists have pointed out that most of Lucy’s features, especially her head and jaw, are distinctly apelike, with wrist bones suggesting she walked on all fours. These observations are difficult to reconcile with the claim that her pelvis and leg bones are evidence of upright walking, although creationists have attacked that claim as speculative. And, of course, the general incompleteness of Lucy’s skeleton casts doubt on the certainty of any interpretation.
A new analysis of 35 other australopithecine fossils sheds light on how Lucy may have walked, according to scientists who report their findings in the journal Science. The fossils are also from Ethiopia and, by piecing fragments together, the researchers believe they now understand the skeletal structure of Australopithecus afarensis feet. “The way the two ends of the bone were twisted in relation to each other in the fossils suggests that when one end was on the ground, the other end was raised about 8˚ to attach to the rest of the foot,” ScienceNOW reports (emphasis ours), the implication being that A. afarensis feet had well-formed arches like humans’. The researchers therefore conclude that Lucy and other australopithecines spent most of their time walking upright.
Some scientists disagree with the study’s conclusions, however. American Museum of Natural History paleoanthropologist Will Harcourt-Smith argues that the study does not settle the question of whether Lucy had crucially important arches on the inner foot. “It’s hard to envisage an animal that had entirely made the leap to full, obligate bipedalism,” he explained. (A composite photo in the National Geographic News coverage of the story helps illustrate Harcourt-Smith’s point, albeit unintentionally.)
As with many high-profile fossils, a layer of interpretation lies between what the creature was really like and our idea of what the creature was like. This interpretive layer thickens the less complete a fossil is, and Lucy is a perfect example of that. Even if australopithecines sported an arched foot, it does not mean they were our ancestors; even if the outer portion of some australopithecines’ feet were arched, it does not mean their entire foot was; even if certain foot bones were twisted in a certain manner, it only “suggests” the outer portion of their feet was arched; and so on—at each step, the scientists have made a jump from the evidence to the conclusion. Moreover, how partial and interpretation-laden are the 35 fossils used in this analysis, and how certain is their connection to Lucy?
Do the potential benefits of embryonic stem cell research justify the destruction of tiny, unborn human lives? Or is there a viable alternative?
The way the mainstream media portrays it, stem cell research is a major ethical quandary. On the one hand, stem cells derived from human embryos are said to have incredible potential to remedy physical ailments, perhaps even allowing the paralyzed to walk again. On the other hand, few individuals say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with destroying those viable human embryos. Do we sacrifice life on the altar of healing?
While secular ethicists wrestle with the dilemma, the past decade has seen a steady stream of good news about morally sound alternatives to embryonic stem cell research. Although popular reporting often obscures the fact, unborn embryos are not the only source of human stem cells. Moreover, partial restrictions on embryonic stem cell research put in place during the Bush administration encouraged researchers to investigate how to “induce” pluripotent stem cells from adult cells. We’ve regularly reported on their experimental progress, which includes a number of successful therapies developed without destroying human life.
Now, a team of Ivy League scientists has shown that stem cells derived from adult cells are “equal” to embryonic stem cells in creating new neurons, which are useful in therapies aimed at reducing the impact of diseases like Parkinson’s. The team used genomic analysis techniques to compare variation in both embryonic and induced stem cell lines, determining that each had a similar pattern of variation.
One of the multi-university teams, led by Harvard stem cell expert Kevin Eggan, reported that “all 16 lines were turned into motor neurons and were usable. . . . [B]ut the main message is that, on average, iPS cell lines behaved as well as human embryonic stem cell lines.”
The findings give us even more reason to believe we should do away with embryonic stem cell research, which is a prominent emblem of modern society’s devaluation of the unborn child. Furthermore, the supposed ethical quandary has been increasingly revealed to be a fiction. What is troubling is that were it not for government restrictions and for those who spoke out against embryonic stem cell research, we may have never learned what promise induced pluripotent stem cells hold.
Human brains are getting smaller, yet we’re apparently getting smarter. Does that mean dinosaurs with walnut-sized brains could have actually been geniuses?
Joking aside—as there is no word on dinosaur intelligence in the Agence France-Presse report—researchers are trying to explain the remarkable decline in human brain size. Estimates show that in the past 30,000 years (roughly equivalent to the past 3,000 years in creationist models), human brains have become about ten percent smaller, dropping about a tennis ball’s worth of total volume.
University of Missouri psychologist David Geary, one of the researchers, explained, “As complex societies emerged, the brain became smaller because people did not have to be as smart to stay alive.” He believes the increased interaction and divisions of labor as human populations coalesced permitted those with smaller brains to survive. That said, scientists don’t believe our larger-brained ancestors were, on the whole, any smarter.
“[E]ven though a wolf has a much larger brain than dogs, dogs are far more sophisticated, intelligent and flexible, so intelligence is not very well linked to brain size,” noted Duke University anthropologist Brian Hare.
We have frequently mentioned the fact that Neanderthal brains were larger than those of today’s humans, yet Neanderthals are generally thought to have been less intelligent than “modern” humans. The same conclusion—that despite larger brains, our non-Neanderthal ancestors were no more intelligent, and perhaps less—strikes us as chronological snobbery. While evolutionary theory posits a steady progress of life, the creation perspective begins with a perfect Adam and Eve whose sin led to destructive consequences. From the pyramids to the Antikythera mechanism, a number of ancient artifacts reveal that our ancestors may well have been more intelligent than we are!
Why and how did “serpents” lose their limbs? The research may move forward, but the answer stays (largely) the same.
Although evidence of limb-loss in snakes may seem like clear-cut evidence for the truth of Genesis 3, evolutionists have their own stories about how lizards or a form of marine reptile lost their limbs in becoming modern snakes. We wrote back in September 2009 that:
To some, a snake spontaneously growing a leg (or so it appears) would seem to be out-and-out proof of evolution. After all, if a snake can grow a leg, why couldn’t a fish grow feet, a dinosaur grow feathers, etc.? How could creationists explain the increase in genetic information that a snake leg would require?
But there’s a catch. Both evolutionists and creationists actually believe that snakes weren’t always legless. Evolutionists believe that snakes are the evolutionary descendants of lizards that gradually lost their legs (as we discussed in 2007 and 2008); thus, they view this legged snake as hearkening back to its evolutionary ancestors. As for creationists, we read in Genesis 3:14 that God punished the serpent for deceiving Eve[.]
This week’s news is the publication, at last, of research we described back in April 2008. X-ray examinations of a snake fossil found in Lebanon in 2000 reveal a snake in “an early stage in limb loss.” The three-dimensional images from the X-ray scan revealed that the supposedly 95-million-year-old fossil was hiding ankle bones, though it lacked foot and toe bones. We repeat here the main points of our original analysis:
- If snakes once had legs they’ve now lost, this fits in perfectly with the creation model. The “evolution” we observe around us is all information-reducing, degenerating change. That is, creatures become less sophisticated from their original forms and actually lose features and functionality. It makes sense, then, that snakes may have been created with legs but that over time, natural selection in specific environments favored those without legs—a simpler form. That said, these so-called “legs,” which evolutionists admit were too short in this specimen to be used for ambulation, may have been used in copulation. Perhaps no snakes ever “walked” in any sense.
- Evolutionists conceptualize snakes as evolved lizards (or marine reptiles) because it’s the only conclusion from an evolutionary standpoint—yet this conclusion ignores the fact that snakes require a very specialized backbone and some snakes have unhinging jaws, also unlike other reptiles.
In short, a snake with “legs” neither threatens the creation model nor is any evidence of a genetic information-adding evolutionary transition.
Now what about the connection between this snake and the serpent of Genesis 3, which was cursed in Genesis 3:14 to crawl on its belly? As we’ve noted previously, fossilized snake forms are most likely from Noah’s Flood, more than a thousand years after the events in Genesis 3. Furthermore, Scripture isn’t specific about the anatomy of the Eden serpent nor if the curse on it applied to all “serpents” or just one. [For a recent perspective, see Did the Serpent Originally Have Legs?]
Bill Nye, the “science guy” of children’s television fame, recently answered a few questions for the magazine Popular Mechanics. Although Ken Ham tackled Nye’s answers in a blog entry, we thought our perspective could bear re-emphasizing.
The interview started with Popular Mechanics asking Nye what he thought of last week’s news showing only tepid support for teaching evolution among high school science teachers. Calling it “horrible,” Nye explained:
Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back. And it’s fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don’t believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster. We talk about the Internet. That comes from science. Weather forecasting. That comes from science. The main idea in all of biology is evolution.
Later, Nye discusses why he supports strong elementary school science programs:
Nearly every rocket scientist got interested in it before they were 10. Everybody who’s a physician, who makes vaccines, who wants to find the cure for cancer. Everybody who wants to do any medical good for humankind got the passion for that before he or she was 10. So we want to excite a new generation of kids . . . about the passion, beauty and joy . . . of science. These anti-evolution people are frustrating in two ways. The first way is, almost certainly they know better. Those people really do believe in flu shots. They really do understand that when you find fossil bones of ancient dinosaurs, you are looking at deep time, not just 5000 years. And secondly, and much more importantly, having raised a generation of kids who don’t understand science is bad for everyone. And with the United States having a leadership role in science and technology, having a generation of kids not believing in science is bad for the world.
Nye suggests that the root of modern creation beliefs lies in “wanting the world to be different than it is.” He adds, “We all want the world to be different. But to deny evolution is in no one’s best interest.”
Our disagreements with Nye’s comments generally fall in three categories:
Overall, Nye’s attitude toward young-earth creationists is typical of what we’ve seen from other prominent evolutionists over the years: no indication of awareness of or engagement with actual creationist views, the unquestioning comparison of evolutionary theory to modern technology and undisputed fields of science, and a refusal to acknowledge that any qualified scientists reject molecules-to-man evolution. Sadly, this sort of ignorance, misperception, and inaccuracy appears all the time in mainstream portrayals of creationists, and it usually goes uncorrected.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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