1. National Geographic News: “Japan Tsunami: 20 Unforgettable Pictures

Japan is still suffering from the effects of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that have taken more than 6,000 lives with over ten thousand more missing.

The 9.0-magnitude quake devastated much of the Tōhoku region of Japan, with the tsunami it caused washing away much of the wreckage from the quake—and causing new wreckage of its own. Since the horrific incident, the country has struggled to ensure survivors receive adequate food and shelter; meanwhile, workers are attempting to control overheating problems caused by the tsunami’s power disruption at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

National Geographic News provides a collection of twenty dramatic photos showing the extent of the damage and reminding us of the awesome power of geologic and hydrologic forces.

In the aftermath of any natural disaster, especially one so brutally and indiscriminately devastating as this, the cries “Where was God?” and “How could a loving God . . . ?” grow louder than usual. At Answers in Genesis, we are greatly saddened at the rising numbers of victims of this tragedy, and we pray for the well-being of the survivors.

But in answer to the question of how a loving God could allow such a tragedy, we point to the consequences of human sin—not the sin of Japanese people, but of one man, Adam. As the ancestor of all humankind, Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden is the ultimate cause of the death and suffering we see in the world today. God, in His holy character, could not allow sin to go unpunished, and the Curse of Genesis 3 marks the mortality of man and the harshness of the earth. All humans suffer the effects of the Curse, though some of its effects—like the tsunami in Japan or the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004—are more concentrated.

The good news is that our bondage to sin has been undone through the saving work of Jesus Christ, who bore our punishment on the Cross. Those who believe in Him are not condemned (John 3:18) but have eternal life (John 3:16). We pray that as a result of this tragedy, both tsunami survivors in Japan and the world that is watching will have another opportunity to hear this, the saving message of the Gospel and the reality of God’s love amid suffering.

(For more on this topic, see Massive Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan and “Lost” without Genesis: Coping with the “Death Wave”.)

2. ScienceDaily: “Neanderthals Were Nifty at Controlling Fire

Neanderthals were no novices when it came to wielding fire, new evidence suggests—evidence that adds to our understanding of Neaderthals as intelligent, modern humans.

Scientists from Leiden University and the University of Colorado–Boulder drew the conclusion after an exhaustive study of both archaeological sites in Europe and previous research on the use of fire in ancient Europe. By the end, the team had amassed data on 141 archaeological “fireplace” sites, listing the specific evidence associated with each site and assigning a confidence level to the historicity of each site.

Specifically, the scientists had the highest confidence that inhabitants had “control” of fire if the evidence at the location included two or more of the following: the presence of charcoal, heated stone artifacts, burned bones, heated sediments, and hearths. Old-earth dating methods used by the team suggest Neanderthals had continuous control of fire dating back to around 400,000 years ago—“yet another indication that they weren't dimwitted brutes as often portrayed,” the news release notes. Indeed, Neanderthals “may well have conserved and transported fire from site to site.”

“Until now, many scientists have thought Neanderthals had some fires but did not have continuous use of fire,” explained University of Colorado Museum of Natural History curator Paola Villa. “We were not expecting to find a record of so many Neanderthal sites exhibiting such good evidence of the sustained use of fire over time.”

The team also confirmed that Neanderthals used fire to make pitch (a substance familiar to creationists, thanks to Genesis 6:14) by burning the bark of birch trees in holes in the ground. (Pitch can be produced from trees by burning bark in the absence of air.) The pitch would likely have been used in toolmaking. “This means Neanderthals were not only able to use naturally occurring adhesive gums as part of their daily lives, they were actually able to manufacture their own. For those who say Neanderthals did not have elevated mental capacities, I think this is good evidence to the contrary,” Villa said.

Because of the old-earth assumptions used in the team’s dating methods, we can’t say that Neanderthals’ control of fire was “continuous,” but that may be safely assumed with the ample evidence of their intelligence. Moreover, the dating methods led the team to another conclusion, that early Europeans inhabited the cold north without the help of fire—a conclusion one scientist says is “difficult to imagine.” While the dates may be uncertain, the abundant evidence from this study and others is that Neanderthals, like all our human ancestors, were highly intelligent, not fundamentally different from any other Homo sapiens, and created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

3. National Geographic News: “Why Transylvanian Chickens Have Naked Necks

Creationists emphasize that genetic mutations have never been shown to generate new, beneficial information in organisms (and often have deleterious effects), which undermines Darwinists’ case. And mutations in the naked-neck chicken are no exception.

Sometimes called a “churkey or turken,” the naked-neck chicken lacks feathers on its neck, giving it a turkey-like appearance. Scientists led by developmental biologist Denis Headon of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have uncovered the genetic mutation and developmental process that results in this strange feature.

Naked-neck chickens first appeared in Romania several hundred years ago, and since then have become popular livestock in warm regions, as the birds tolerate heat better than other chickens and consequently produce better meat and eggs. Therefore, the mutation resulting in the chicken’s naked neck has been beneficial for the mutant birds.

But does the mutation add any information to the chicken’s genome? Headon’s team found that the mutation causes overproduction of a molecule called BMP12, which blocks feather production. Chicken necks seem especially sensitive to the effects of BMP12 because a particular acid, derived from Vitamin A and produced on the chicken’s neck skin, enhances BMP12’s effects.

Therefore the mutation, however beneficial, does not add any information to the chicken genome; it merely short-circuits some of the existing information to allow overproduction of a molecule the chicken already makes. Moreover, the acid produced on the chicken’s neck helps “prime” the bird for the effects of the mutation—enabling easy adaptation to warmer environments. “We think all birds have this priming or readiness to lose neck feathers first,” Headon explained, noting that ostriches also lack neck feathers. “Once you have a mutation that increases BMP12 in skin, the neck is the region that’s ready to lose its feathers.” But it’s clear that this mutation does not support Darwinism—and, by contrast, shows the hand of the Creator in helping creatures adapt to varying climates. Unsurprising, however, Headon concludes, “Evolution has always found it easy to lose neck feathers whenever it gets hot and the bird gets big” (emphasis ours).

4. ScienceDaily: “How the Slime Mold Gets Organized

The cellular slime mold might seem to be a lowly form of life—maybe just the sort that could conceivably have evolved from inanimate matter. But new research reminds us just how wrong such fanciful imaginings are.

In fact, it’s not even clear whether we should describe the cellular slime mold as an incredible creature or as incredible creatures. The slime mold can live as a unicellular organism, but when under duress, individual slime mold cells join together to behave in concert and build a multicellular organism-of-sorts. The multicellular slime mold grows a small spore-holding stalk to propagate the species.

Stanford University scientists have taken a closer look at the inner workings of slime mold cells. Their research shows that slime mold cells “have a tissue structure that was previously thought to exist only in more sophisticated animals.”

In animals, proteins help organize cells into “epithelial” layers, such that each cell touches other cells, but the cells together keep a complete surface open to the formation’s interior. These structures are found in many animal organs, such as in intestines, where the surface of cells helps to absorb nutrients; elsewhere, these epithelial layers can secrete substances into the hollow area. In the multicellular slime mold, the tissue secrets two proteins that help the stalk stay upright.

The scientists believe that this shows that “the ancient ancestor of slime molds and animals” must have had the two proteins. But common design seems to better explain how two distantly related forms of life, one of which appears quite simple, could share this complex cellular capability.

5. New York Times: “From Single Cells, a Vast Kingdom Arose

It’s the news that, in the mind of one of our critics, “proved” evolution.

The story begins with the discovery of the “amoebalike” Capsaspora owczarzaki living inside snails. Strange enough, that obscure microorganism is “one of the closest relatives to animals,” the Times declares as a starting point for discussing the supposed evolutionary transition of such unicellular creatures to animal life. But what the Times explains next is anything but a “proof” of evolution:

The origin of animals is also one of the more mysterious episodes in the history of life. Changing from a single-celled organism to a trillion-cell collective demands a huge genetic overhaul. The intermediate species that might show how that transition took place have become extinct. “We’re just missing the intervening steps,” said Nicole King, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The article goes on to explain several lines of evolutionary research investigating the connection between single-celled life and animals, including a DNA study said to have shown that “[t]he cousins of animals turn out to be a motley crew.” So what’s the evidence supporting an evolutionary origin of animals?

  • First, “[p]rimitive multicellularity may have been fairly easy to evolve,” the story asserts, quoting a scientist who notes that “[a]ll that has to happen is that the products of cell division stick together” and division of labor can begin. But no evidence is provided to back up the historicity of this just-so story. Furthermore, cells sticking together risk a host of problems when individual cells “become renegades.” But in explaining how animals acquired defenses against such renegade cells, scientists presuppose evolution, pointing to algae that “have evolved” appropriate defenses.
  • Second, we read that researchers have discovered “a wealth of genes that were once thought to exist only in animals” inside of single-celled creatures, including a gene in Capsaspora that’s similar to a gene important in animals’ embryonic development. But, again, that finding doesn’t prove evolution; it only shows that even relatively “simple” life-forms include highly complex genetic programming. While the Times declares that “[o]ld genes began to take on new functions, like producing the glue for sticking cells together and guarding against runaway cells that could become tumors,” we once again have no direct evidence for that just-so story.
  • Third, the article refers to research we discussed last August, in which a team claimed to discover the “oldest animal fossils yet found”: sponge-like creatures from a supposed 650 million years ago. (The Times does not report criticism of the team’s findings; we did.) The story also reports that another team drilled into what were considered 635-million-year-old (or more) oil deposits and found “cholesterol-like molecules that are produced today only by one group of sponges”; we would obviously disagree with that dating and conclude that the molecules really were produced by sponges similar to the ones we find today! Meanwhile, a genetic study of sponges showed 1,268 gene families shared by all animals but not by other species, which the Times is forced to conclude “were presumably passed down to living animals from a common ancestor that lived 800 million years ago.” Another just-so story, despite the fact that the article quotes a scientist who speaks as if he had seen the creature: “It wasn’t just an amorphous blob of cells” but one that (in the reporter’s words) “was already setting aside eggs and sperm[,] could produce embryos, and it could lay down complicated patterns in its body.”

Researchers also haven’t yet found an explanation for “another source of innovation” animals have called microRNA, which helps regulate genes and has not been found in what the Times calls “single-celled relatives of animals.” MicroRNAs are more frequent in animals with more cell types; sponges have just 8, while humans have 677.

To us, the case for Darwinian evolution is weaker than ever. The more scientists are able to research the inner workings of life, the more two things become obvious. First, life is incredibly complicated, even in the simplest cell; evolutionists’ explanations for the origin of that complexity continue to be little more than hand-waving and just-so stories. Second, however sophisticated our inner biology is, there is no evidence that over time and generations cells can make themselves more complex except in ways already coded for genetically. Both of these evidences are far more consistent with special creation than with Darwinian evolution. At the same time, the “evidence” of evolution is almost entirely evidence of similarity across forms of life—often with the help of an old-earth interpretation of the fossil record. But the old-earth interpretation is based on unprovable assumptions, and the similarity evolutionists see can be explained with common design just as well (if not better) than as with common descent. Until evolutionists recognize these arguments, their “proofs” of evolution will continue to fall short of convincing creationists—or anyone paying close attention to their claims.

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Back in June 2009 we covered the incredible quantum-mechanical process that scientists think is behind birds’ amazing navigational abilities. Although we missed it in January, a reader has notified us of more research exploring how quantum effects may power birds’ internal compasses. Moreover, the research suggests that European robins can “maintain quantum entanglement in their eyes a full 20 microseconds longer than the best laboratory systems,” prompting one researcher to ask, “How can a living system have evolved to protect a quantum state as well—no, better—than we can do in the lab with these exotic molecules?” A great question, indeed!
  • Biologists claim to have “caught evolution in the act.” But is it so? The researchers discovered that hybrid flower species Tragopogon miscellus, bred in the lab in 2004, had “relaxed control of gene expression in its earliest generations” but now has regained control. What that means, however, is that the earliest hybrids “hit a reset button on gene expression, turning them all on—[which] could allow subsequent generations to experiment by switching off different genes,” in one of the scientist’s words. In other words, the “evolution” was based on genes that already existed in the original plant genome, not on new genes produced through random processes.
  • The “foundations of empathy” are found in the chicken, some researchers report, because hens show signs of distress when their chicks are threatened. But a Wall Street Journal book review challenges the extent of true altruism in animals, arguing that “the moral world of humans, to even the most casually reflective observer, reaches far beyond such primal urges [as sex, territory, possessions, reciprocity, kinship].”
  • “Difficult decisions ahead on Mars,” reports BBC News, because U.S. government funding of a new mission could be compromised. The joint ESA–NASA mission has, among other priorities, the goal of “drill[ing] below the planet’s surface to search for signs of life.”
  • “[T]ens of thousands of specimens” of marine fossils have turned up over the years in a Virginia sandpit. But just what could have caused whale, shark, dolphin, sea turtle, seal, crocodile, and other species to have been buried together? A catastrophic flood, perhaps?
  • Non-embryonic stem cells are playing a growing role in medical research. Some scientists have recently used them to better understand eye disorders, others to research stroke and heart disease research therapies, and others to study genetic problems that contribute to mental illness. Even horse owners are being encouraged to save foals’ umbilical cord tissue for future stem cell recovery.
  • Hot political news in the U.S. last week was a secret video recording showing the top fundraiser for government-assisted National Public Radio making controversial political statements while wooing would-be donors. The intelligent design-defending blog Evolution News and Views notes that the fundraiser’s statements about NPR’s one-sided coverage of climate change news implies that public radio is also biased when it comes to covering the origins debate. (For more background, see NPR officers compare deniers of climate change to birthers and flat earth believers.)

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