Just a few weeks ago we reported that the continued search for habitable extrasolar planets has revealed just how special Earth is. So if aliens aren’t on planets orbiting other stars, where else could they be?
Years ago, the idea that Mars was inhabited by humanoid creatures seemed, at least to some, quite plausible. Today, of course, we know that Mars is lifeless (on the surface, anyway). Nonetheless, astronomers have turned their telescopes farther and farther away from Earth in hopes of finding a planet as “just right” for life as Earth is. The problem is, no matter where they look, Earth looks to be increasingly unique.
Where astronomers have been looking in the past decade are far-off stars that have their own planets. Called extrasolar planets or exoplanets, these bodies are identifiable by their gravitational effect on their host star or by the decrease in light detected from their host star as the planet passes between Earth and the star. Using these methods, scientists have located hundreds of these planets, with the vast majority harshly inhospitable. If scientists begin finding habitable extrasolar planets, does the evidence confirm that we’re alone?
Not so fast, University of Chicago planetary scientists Dorian Abbot and Eric Switzer insist, for the duo have a wild new idea about where aliens could be “hiding.” The scientists propose a “Steppenwolf planet,” which, in allusion to a Hermann Hesse novel, would ferry life “like a lone wolf wandering the galactic steppe.” A Steppenwolf planet would fly through interstellar space, far from a host star, having been “slingshotted” out of its original solar systems by the gravitational effects of a larger planet.
But even non-astronomers may quickly question how life could survive on a planet far from its star—given that our own solar system’s habitable zone does not exist so far past Earth. If life requires liquid water—and evolutionists agree that it does—then planets without a heat source cannot sustain life. But Abbot and Switzer ran simulations to show that a large enough planet, covered in any ice shell as a “blanket” but with significant geothermal activity on the inside, could generate sufficient heat to maintain a subsurface ocean.
While a Steppenwolf planet is certainly an interesting idea, it’s only an idea, since none have been identified yet and, moreover, the odds of one even existing in range of our current telescopes is estimated at one in a billion. Suggesting that life might exist on one is therefore among the wildest ideas we’ve ever reported on in News to Note—not because it’s outright impossible, but because it puts the faith of evolutionary astronomers into focus, showing how easily the evidence flies out the window when it gets in the way of the belief that life can appear wherever the conditions are right.
It’s not just young-earth creationists who lean on catastrophic geological processes in explaining earth history. Increasingly, old-earthers are also seeing the work of catastrophes in shaping the planet.
In this case, scientists are pointing to a catastrophe to explain an event that changed not only the geological landscape, but the landscape of history as well: what made Britain an island nation.
Oxford University geologist David Smith describes the tsunami thought to have separated Britain from Europe: “The waves would have been maybe as much as 10 m (33 ft) high. . . . The speed [of the water] was just so great.”
The tsunami, which old-earth geologists think happened some eight-thousand years ago, was supposedly launched when Norwegian landslides rapidly raised the level of an ancient sea off Norway’s coast. Excess water soon burst forth and began racing toward what would become the English Channel. Scientists believe the raging water not only carved the channel but also expanded the ancient sea into what we now know as the North Sea.
If secular scientists can believe that the overflow of a relatively small ancient sea (smaller than the North Sea) could carve out the English Channel and expand the North Sea to its present size, is it really such a stretch to believe that water covering the entire world—bursting forth from below and raining down from above—would not completely rework the earth’s surface? As the waters came, they would have rapidly deposited layers of sediment—including life-forms caught off-guard; as the waters receded, they would have carved channels and reshaped much of the sediment. Together with catastrophic tectonic forces, the Flood of Noah’s day was responsible for more changes in the Earth’s natural environment than any event since creation. And secular scientists give tacit credibility to the Flood model whenever they use catastrophic processes to explain geological formations.
More research supports our view that historic humanity and modern humanity were far more similar than we “modern” humans often think.
Although archaeologists today are usually careful to distinguish what we actually know about the humans who lived before us from the media portrayal of those humans, the “pop culture” view of ancient man remains largely irreverent. The Flintstones aside, our society usually portrays ancient man as brutish, unduly aggressive, and physically abnormal.
A new paper appearing in the journal Current Anthropology is the latest in a long line of research challenging that view. Stony Brook University archaeologist John Shea leverages the difference between “behavioral modernity” and “behavioral variability” to argue that ancient man—a term that, in his view, stretches to some 100,000 years ago or more—weren’t so different from ourselves.
The “behavioral modernity” theory says that humans only grew sophisticated in the last 50,000 years or less, finally using tools, developing advanced techniques for fire-making, and the like. Before that, our behavior was thought to be more like that of the pop culture caveman. As for the cause of that advance, archaeologists still don’t know. But Shea rejects this view and points instead to “behavioral variability”: what if all the differences in human cultural sophistication are explained by natural variation in terms of the costs and benefits of, e.g., particular toolmaking strategies and the practical needs of living in unique environments? If true, there need not have been any revolution in human behavior, and the history of Homo sapiens is consistent with our high intelligence and cultural sophistication. Moreover, Shea criticizes the ranking of ancient human populations, which suggests different levels of advancement without consideration of environmental pressures. What we should be studying, he argues, is why living in certain environments led to unique behavioral patterns.
Shea’s view is quite supportive of several creationist points. First, we have noted in the past that it’s sometimes easy to see a progression (whether it be of behaviors or anatomy)—especially if one presupposes that a progression exists—when in fact there is only variation. Second, given the variation in human societies, we need no evidence of “sophistication” in certain human populations to show that they were fully human. After all, a fully “modern” human living on a deserted island may well leave behind only “primitive” tools, for example. Factoring all this in, it is easy to understand all known human artifacts as fitting in to a post-Babel human history, wherein people groups dispersed after Babel and built relatively isolated civilizations. While all were descendants of Adam—and thereby bore the image of God—we observe variation in what their lifestyles were like due to natural variation in their circumstances.
Although the above title is neither clear nor of our choosing, the focus of the article is purportedly “the final nail in the coffin” for those that don’t believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Or is this evolutionary dogma that just won’t fly away?
The idea that birds are, in essence, the dinosaurs that didn’t die out is common in evolutionary circles today. Artists’ renderings of certain theropod dinosaurs routinely show feathers, beaks, and bird-like postures, even though notable problems with the dinosaur-to-bird hypothesis remain (see Did Dinosaurs Turn Into Birds? for a detailed review of the topic). Not all evolutionists are convinced, however; for example, we reported last year on scientists who believe some “dinosaurs” (or, at least, creatures currently classified as such) are actually the descendants of birds. At the time, we quoted Oregon State zoologist John Ruben—an evolutionist, as far as we’re aware—who explained:
“We’re finally breaking out of the conventional wisdom of the last 20 years, which insisted that birds evolved from dinosaurs and that the debate is all over and done with. This issue isn’t resolved at all. There are just too many inconsistencies with the idea that birds had dinosaur ancestors, and this newest study adds to that. . . . Raptors look quite a bit like dinosaurs but they have much more in common with birds than they do with other theropod dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus. We think the evidence is finally showing that these animals which are usually considered dinosaurs were actually descended from birds, not the other way around. . . . Given the vagaries of the fossil record, current notions of near resolution of many of the most basic questions about long-extinct forms should probably be regarded with caution.”
Keeping that in mind, what’s the latest news on the dinosaur–bird connection? Japanese researchers report in the journal Science a project to better understand the development of digits in chicken embryos. In the past, some scientists have argued against a dinosaur–bird evolutionary connection by pointing out that chickens grow what were thought to be the equivalent of our middle three digits, while theropod dinosaurs had the equivalent of a thumb, index, and middle finger. Does that mean the evolutionary link doesn’t add up?
By moving around embryonic tissue in the embryos, the Tohoku University researchers found evidence that the previous research suggesting that birds have the middle three digits in their wings is wrong. To some researchers, this is apparently tantamount to solid evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs. But by our reading, the research only shows how complex the developmental process is—and how poorly we understand it.
Alan Feduccia is a University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill evolutionary biologist who is an expert on the various theories of bird origins, and he has consistently pointed out flaws in the dinosaur-to-birds theory. “Something very complicated is happening,” he told ScienceNOW, “but renaming digit identity based on these findings would be extremely premature.” ScienceNOW quotes another evolutionary biologist who says the results should be “considered with some caution.”
What news coverage of the research conveniently ignores is that rather than providing evidence for dinosaur-to-bird evolution, the Tohoku University team is actually only disputing evidence against the dino-bird connection that was proposed by Feduccia and others over a decade ago. And even if their rebuttal were conclusive, the research says nothing about the “inconsistencies” John Ruben mentions. And if the majority of evolutionary scientists will ignore the problems in this single supposed example of evolution, where else are inconvenient truths neatly swept under a rug?
It seems Darwin is celebrated more widely with each passing year, with popular annual events including Evolution Sunday and Darwin Day. The New York Times examines how a celebration of the latter went off in a few fragments of small-town America.
Darwin Day, which marks the anniversary of Darwin’s birth on February 12, 1809, and celebrates both Darwin’s research and evolutionary theory in general, may not compare with Christmas—yet. But evolutionists hope the event will spread.
This year, the federally funded National Evolutionary Synthesis Center sent some of its researchers on the road for Darwin Day, coordinating special events at schools and museums in four “rural” states. The center’s education director, Jory P. Weintraub, reportedly started the idea by suggesting, “Maybe this year, we should try to go to places that wouldn’t otherwise have a Darwin Day.”
Apparently not all of the center’s researchers were enthusiastic, with some expecting backlash and hostility in small-town venues. But the center proceeded to arrange events in Virginia, Nebraska, Montana, and Iowa, none of which had any Darwin Day events planned.
The Times interviewed teenage blogger Shae Carter, an Iowa high school student who said the visiting scientists “told it like it is” and that the event wasn’t “cold and boring,” as expected. Whether those comments are typical is uncertain.
What is more certain is that evolutionists are working harder and harder to “sell” evolution in the culture, no longer content with survey data indicating that only a minority of the U.S. population accepts mainstream evolutionary theory. Until recent years, most evolutionary scientists seem to have stayed out of the culture wars, but we are increasingly seeing a direct effort by these scientists to change attitudes about origins, even at the grade-school level. Consequently, the war of the worldviews is likely to grow hotter still.
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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