1. National Geographic News: “Odd Saber-Toothed Beast Discovered—Preyed on . . . Plants?

Eat softly and carry big teeth—was it the unwritten policy of the saber-toothed Tiarajudens eccentricus?

Federal University of Piauí paleontologist Juan Carlos Cisneros discovered the fossil in Brazil and led the study that reports on the find in the journal Science. The remains belong to a therapsid, a term paleontologists use to describe a group of extinct reptiles with mammalian characteristics.

Receiving most of the attention are the creature’s teeth, which are described as combining the canines of a saber-toothed cat, a shark-like palate studded with replacement teeth, the incisors of a horse, and large molars like a capybara’s. But despite the ferocious appearance, the creature would have been strictly a plant-eater, Cisneros and his team report.

To explain the oversize canines, the team hypothesizes that T. eccentricus’s saber teeth may have scared off predators or intimidated rivals of the same species. And while the team chalks up the saber teeth to “evolutionary experimentation,” it’s interesting that creationists are criticized for believing animals like theropod dinosaurs could have been created vegetarian. “Just look at their teeth,” evolutionists scoff, “How could that jaw be designed for eating plants?” To the contrary, some creatures living today with fearsome fangs (such as the fruit bat) feed on plants. Furthermore, changes at and after the Fall could have altered God’s original herbivorous dental designs.

2. PhysOrg: “Could Cancer Be Our Oldest Ancestor?

Cancer, perhaps like nothing else, reminds us of the brokenness, the suffering, and the mortality of creation in this present age, all traceable back to Adam’s sin. Genesis makes it clear that man, along with everything else in the original creation, was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We can infer that cancer was not a part of that, since the Bible describes death as an “enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). But now, evolutionists are proposing that cancer may actually be our ancestor!

Paul Davies, an Arizona State University astrobiologist who has been mentioned several times in News to Note (most recently in December), describes his team’s astonishing idea in an Arizona State news video:

These rudimentary [multicellular] colonies, I think, were like the earliest tumors. And so when people get cancer now, these tumors represent a throwback to that time about a billion years ago, that first experimentation with multicellularity.

. . . Single cells have just one imperative: replicate, replicate, replicate. But when cells began to get together to form colonies and cooperative arrangements, they had to relinquish some of their rights, and one of these rights is the right to replicate when you want to. And so now in our bodies, all of this is very tightly controlled. If there’s a skin cell, for example, it can’t just decide to replicate; it has to wait for a signal, a message to tell it to do so. . . . If that cooperative arrangement breaks down, cancer results. And what we’re saying is not just that this is cells gone wrong; this is cells reverting to the way they used to be a billion years ago. . . . [T]here’s a . . . [toolkit] of genes, very ancient genes, that know how to build these rudimentary, cancerous colonies, and . . . these genes are overlaid by more sophisticated ones that represent life as we now see it. . . . And that when something goes wrong, out springs this ancient toolkit of genes, and out comes that earlier way of doing things.

Especially blunt is Davies’ claim that cancer “doesn’t seem like something just going wrong; it seems like something going right,” since he sees cancer as “pre-programmed” in the human body. He likens it to humans being “born with tails”—which is a common evolutionary misinterpretation of an occasional birth defect, and in our opinion Davies should know better. And bordering on the ridiculous, Davies tries to defend astrobiology, saying it “can inform cancer biology,” despite the fact that astrobiologists have found no life beyond earth and the field is little more than evolutionary speculation about the origin of life!

Whether Davies’ idea takes hold among evolutionists is yet to be seen. Our question is how Christian evolutionists—who generally accept mainstream evolution lock, stock, and barrel but throw God in as the initiator and interested observer of the process—will respond to this idea. Creationists make the point that theistic evolution makes God the architect of death, and it seems to us that evolutionists calling cancer our “ancestor” makes this point all the more clear. After all, the strange implication of their view is that what the Bible calls an “enemy,” and a primary blight we associate with the brokenness of the present creation, was actually part of what God was looking at when He called his creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

3. BBC News: “Religion May Become Extinct in Nine Nations, Study Says

“Religion? What’s that?”—the earnest question of future Australian, Irish, Swiss, and other children?

Scientists presenting at a recent meeting of the American Physical Society have predicted that religion is on its way out—at least, in nine countries the team studied. The researchers used a mathematical model and census data to estimate future changes in overall religious adherence based on the “social utility” of membership in religious groups.

Data used in the study came from censuses in Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland. Among those countries, the Czech Republic had the highest rate of religious non-affiliation, at sixty percent.

“The idea is pretty simple,” explained team member Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the University of Arizona. “It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. . . . In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion[.]” Thus, as more and more people stop identifying with religion, the rate of conversion to religious non-affiliation will accelerate.

Both the causes and the consequences of unbelief and the societal abandonment of religion are troubling, especially given that the nations the study examined can in general be described as Christian or, perhaps more accurately, post-Christian. As society gives up on God’s Word and His Son, it gives up not only objective morality and a transcendent meaning of life, but also on the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. Wiener’s conclusions may be accurate; the question is whether that is something to be celebrated.

4. National Geographic News: “Pictures: New Dinosaur, Crocodile Cousin Found in Brazil

“After a while, crocodile,” goes part of the rhyming children’s parting. In this case, an ancient crocodilian looks quite the same as modern crocodiles, even after a long while of some supposed 65 or more million years.

Paleontologists discovered the nearly complete skull of the newly described ancient species Pepesuchus deiseae in Brazil. Considered the cousin to the modern crocodile, P. deiseae is classified as a crocodilian, the grouping home to modern-day alligators, caimans, gharials, and crocodiles.

Thanks to the fossil skull being in “incredibly good condition,” paleontologists were able to build a replica of the skull showing the creature’s likely appearance when alive. And despite the fossil’s supposed multi-million-year-old age, the replica shows that the creature looked remarkably similar—to the point of indistinguishability, at least on the surface—to modern crocodilians (which, after all, are considered to be “living fossils”).

While evolutionary theory doesn’t prohibit a group of creatures from remaining unchanged over millions of years, every discovery of an inhabitant of the fossil record that looks nearly identical to its living kin validates the creation worldview while adding one to the “anomaly” tally of the evolutionary worldview.

5. BBC News: “Jordan Battles to Regain ‘Priceless’ Christian Relics

International intrigue, ancient symbols and codes, flash floods in remote archaeological sites, a 2,000-year-old buried secret, and the truth about early Christianity: are they all plot elements of the latest blockbuster page-turner?

To the contrary, this story is nonfiction, as leaden documents said to have been discovered a few years ago are now the center of an ownership dispute. The phrase “said to have been” is key, however: another party claims the documents have been in his family for a century.

According to the Jordanian government, the documents—books made of thin leaves of imprinted lead—were uncovered in a remote cave about five years ago when a flash flood revealed where they had been buried (for 2,000 years, reportedly). The man who says the documents are family heirlooms is a lying smuggler, Jordanian officials insist.

Rightful ownership aside, Jordanian antiquities head Ziad al-Saad calls the documents “perhaps be more significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls” in opening a window into early Christianity. “[T]he initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at . . . maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology,” he added.

The documents are apparently written in an ancient Hebrew code, but symbols imprinted in the lead sheets suggest a connection to early Christianity.* Specifically, one sheet bears an image of what is thought to be Jerusalem—with a crucifix prominently pictured outside the city walls. The site where the documents were found, and the fact that they are leaden books rather than scrolls, also links them to early Christian groups.

Nevertheless, other archaeologists remain understandably skeptical of the artifacts, as the Christian Science Monitor reports, while some sources have raised questions about the credentials of one researcher associated with the discovery. Obviously, far more research is needed to evaluate the authenticity of the documents, and if authentic, archaeologists will still have to decode and interpret the content of the books.

*The Dead Sea Scrolls include sections from the Old Testament. Those scrolls were written before Christ and the New Testament, and thus predate Christianity.

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Has new research “rocked” some creationists’ claim that a Utah petroglyph (rock impression) said to represent a dinosaur isn’t a dinosaur at all? Although the Bible doesn’t stand or fall on the interpretation of a petroglyph, read our full response to this latest criticism.
  • A reminder that race is just a “pigment of our imagination,” as University of California–Irvine sociologist Ruben Rumbaut puts it in an NPR interview: Hispanics, an ethno-linguistic group rather than a racial group, have shown highly contradictory census responses to the question of their race, with Hispanics of different generations not agreeing over whether they are “white.” In reality, of course, nearly all humans can be accurately described as having brown skin, whether the light, creamy brown color common in latitudinal extremes or the dark brown color common in equatorial groups; biologically, we are all of “one blood” (Acts 17:26), and the concept of “race” is purely a social construction that overlays what are, quite literally, superficial differences.
  • Scientists are again imitating God’s creation with the Festo “SmartBird,” a human-controlled robot flier whose shape and aerodynamics mimic a seagull’s.
  • Did Darwin ignore the principle of “survival of the unfit but resilient to mutation”? Scientists are learning how the mechanism of survival of the fittest (formally known as the “competitive exclusion principle”) doesn’t always hold, depending on the underlying mutation rate of the organism in question. Either way, without mutations generating beneficial new information, the organisms that survive can never be “more highly” evolved than those that preceded them. Dogs remain dogs, cats remain cats, apes remain apes, and so on.
  • Speaking of Darwin, what’s the latest on his self-described “abominable mystery,” which we last discussed in July 2009? A fossil newly discovered in China “pushes back the date of when flowering plants diversified to . . . a couple of million years earlier than Darwin had previously thought, suggesting that these ancient blooms had longer to evolve than he suspected.” Yet the fossil—which the research implies would have been one of the earliest flowering plants in existence—is described as “resembl[ing] a modern-day buttercup,” and the photograph betrays its entirely modern appearance.
  • Christopher Hitchens, one of the so-called “New Atheists” who has vocally attacked religion and God in the past decade, has cancer, as we reported last year. Interestingly, The Telegraph describes that Hitchens is receiving a form of cancer treatment co-developed by evangelical Christian Francis Collins, current head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (and an occasional topic in these pages due to his evolutionary views). That leads The Telegraph to opine in the headline, “Atheist Christopher Hitchens Could Be ‘Saved’ by Evangelical Christian.”
  • BBC News reports that Macaque monkeys exhibit basic math skills—specifically, judging relative quantities. The monkeys’ skill disappears, however, if the objects to be counted are edible! Nevertheless, the news reminds us of the intellectual abilities of much of God’s creation.

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