1. Discovery.com: “Neanderthals Died Out Earlier Than Thought: Study

So, were Neanderthals and “modern humans” neighbors in Russia or not?

Two new studies on Russian Neanderthals are challenging anthropological views. Infant skeletons from the Mezmaiskaya Cave were carbon dated with a new improved method. The report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that Neanderthals became extinct in the Caucasus at least 40,000 years ago, too early to share Russia with modern humans. Meanwhile, archaeologists at Byzovaya near the Arctic Circle unearthed 313 Neanderthal tools as well as butchered mammoth bones. Their conclusions, published in Science, assert that Neanderthals not only thrived much farther north than previously thought but did so until as recently as 28,500 years ago. Since the dig sites are widely separated, the results are not actually in conflict, but they do challenge widely held ideas about Neanderthals.

Archaeologist Ludovic Slimak is confident that his Mousterian tools, the type associated with Neanderthals, are really 28,500 years old. He says, “There were different laboratories using different methods, all giving very convergent [the same] dates . . . we are not dealing with a radiometric measuring error, but with a historic and anthropological reality.”1 Common wisdom asserts Neanderthals went extinct 30,000–33,000 years ago.

Because these skeletons at Mezmaiskaya were dated using a technique designed to minimize contamination, the PNAS study contends that their 40,000 year extinction date is reliable. As archaeologist Ron Pinhasi states, “It now seems much clearer that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans did not co-exist in the Caucasus, and it is possible that this scenario is also true for most regions of Europe. Many of the previous dates for late Neanderthal occupation or sites across Europe are problematic.”

Although Mousterian tools are typically thought to be of Neanderthal origin, Pinhasi points out that they may have been produced by modern humans, saying, “We have to directly date Neanderthal and anatomically modern human fossils to resolve this.”

No human remains were found at the Byzovaya site. But if Mousterian tools showing evidence of a thriving habitation near the Arctic Circle are truly Neanderthal in origin, then the popular theory that Neanderthals were not smart enough to cope with the cold should be dismissed. Incidentally, another recent study of dietary residue contained in Belgian and Iraqui Neanderthal tooth calculus has documented that Neanderthals were sophisticated enough to bake or boil a variety of plant foods, another practice which should put to rest the intellectual inferiority notion.

Neanderthal ancestors dispersed from Babel (Genesis 11) along with other humans. Division of the population and environmental challenges later produced people groups with distinctive physical characteristics, including Neanderthals and modern humans. But there is no biblical—or archaeological—reason to presume Neanderthals were intellectually inferior to other humans.

Furthermore, biblical chronology indicates the earth is only 6,000–7,000 years old. Radiometric dating methods are based on uniformitarian assumptions which cannot be confirmed, and methods used to date tools rely on anthropological assumptions which also cannot be confirmed. The Neanderthal population was scattered over a wide area, so their neighbors likely varied. But whenever the last Neanderthal died, we can be confident that it was much more recent than 28,500 years ago.

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2. Sciencemag: “ScienceShot: How the Snail Picked Its Poison

The venom gland in a poisonous mollusk sheds light on the origin of defense/attack structures.

Predatory marine cone snails paralyze their prey with neurotoxic peptides delivered through a harpoon-like tooth. The venom gland originates late in metamorphosis by “rapidly pinching off”2 a ventral channel from the esophagus. In other mollusks, a similar structure develops into mucous glands or digestive enzyme glands.

This esophageal “out-pocketing has no function in larvae,” but it differentiates into the venom gland while the larva continues to feed through the other esophageal channel. Developmental biologist Louise Page dissected many snail larvae to find the elusive origin of the gland. She notes that this non-disruptive modular development of the adult venom gland addresses “a core issue for evolutionary biology: how can any component of a complex system change during evolution without disrupting the functional integrity of the whole?”2

While the harmlessness of the out-pocketing meets one criterion for a successfully evolving structure, the fact that it offers no survival advantage until the poisonous enzymes develop argues against the evolutionary paradigm. The evolutionary scenario is limited by the irreducible complexity of the system: all parts—harpoon tooth, venom sac, and neurotoxic peptides—must already be present before the feeding system would be selected for preservation.

This development represents not evolution, but speciation, as well as the apparent expression and preservation of a defense/attack structure. Just as thorns and thistles are modifications of other plant parts, so the cone snail’s venom sac is a modification of a larval structure which develops in other snails to become more benign structures.

An organism’s genome typically contains more information that it expresses. The genes producing the venomous destiny for the esophageal out-pocketing may have well been present in the original created genome. Their noxious expression awaited God’s curse on His creation. And by equipping cone snails to, at some point in time, expand their diet to include their neighbors, God enabled them to compete successfully in a hostile world and pass this trait on to their offspring, producing the 500 extant cone snail species we see today.

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3. Yale: “Tiny Variation in One Gene May Have Led to Crucial Changes in Human Brain

The gene LAMC-3 is essential to the formation of convolutions in the human brain, but how it “evolved to gain [these] novel functions” remains a mystery.

Three patients lacking normal convolutions in their brains were found to have mutations in the LAMC-3 gene. This gene codes for the gamma chain of laminin. Laminins and collagen comprise the basement membranes beneath the body’s cells. There are many laminins, each consisting of various combinations of three subunits. The gamma-3 subunit is found in large amounts in the human brain late in gestation and in infancy when connections between neurons are rapidly forming.3 Although the LAMC-3 gene is present in “lower organisms with smooth brains,” this heavy concentration in the fetal brain is a human characteristic.

Calling the human cerebral cortex “the crown jewel of creation,” Yale’s Professor Gunel wonders how the LAMC-3 gene evolved to produce the abundant convolutions seen in humans. Only mammals with large brains have significant convolutions, which are most pronounced in humans. Convolutions greatly increase the brain’s surface area, and experts believe this feature makes complex thinking possible.

Further research may someday detect genetic factors which regulate the enhanced use of the gamma-3 chain of laminin in human brain formation. The presence of the same gene in multiple organisms and its enhanced role in humans does not require that humans evolved from inferior ancestors or that the LAMC-3 gene evolved to take on new roles. Rather, God used the same biochemistry in many creatures and created each fully functional with the genes properly regulated and no evolutionary experimentation necessary.

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4. ScienceDaily: “Improving Photosynthesis? Solar Cells Beat Plants at Harvesting Sun's Energy, for Now

Plants capture a little of the sun’s abundant energy and make it available for us. What if we could help them to do it better?

Better biofuels through beefed up photosynthesis is being explored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In a recent feasibility study, the NREL-sponsored group compared the energy capturing efficiency of photovoltaic solar cells to that of plants. Plants lost. But could photosynthetic efficiency be improved through genetic engineering? By capturing and storing a larger percentage of the sun’s energy, such super-plants would not only be a more robust food source but also a more practical biofuel.

Solar cells can capture energy across the spectrum, but plants mainly absorb reds and blues, reflecting the greens. Even that much light can be too much. Sometimes more electrons get excited than the chloroplast can handle. Then surplus energy must be dissipated to keep the plant from burning up. This bottleneck is often due to a rate-limiting enzyme involved in processing carbon dioxide. So far, no way has been found to get this enzyme to respond to higher carbon dioxide levels.

The research team is seeking ways to apply photovoltaic principles to reengineer photosynthesis. They suggest that geneticists try to integrate genetic information for pigments that absorb energy from neglected parts of the spectrum such as the infrared region. But without ways to deal with energy overload, the plant would still cook itself. Therefore they must also find a genetic way to improve enzyme efficiency. The NREL team’s calculations indicate that even in the best case, plant efficiency will never equal that of a solar cell, but it could be significantly improved.

Blaming evolution for the inefficiency inherent in plants, the authors write, “The photosynthetic apparatus are limited by the need to operate within a living organism, for which they were tailored by evolution.” They believe that plants inherited biochemical processes from non-photosynthesizing forbears and just got stuck with them. Furthermore, they say, “Photosynthetic organisms in the wild are selected through evolution for reproductive success, not for high biomass production.”4

We might want to borrow their statement but change one word: the photosynthetic apparatus are limited by the need to operate within a living organism, for which they were tailored by God. Plants do devote a great deal of energy to growth and reproduction, and we are thankful they store enough surplus energy to provide food for our end of the food chain. Historically, mankind has applied common sense genetics to the practical problems of food production with great success. Careful manipulation of the genetic material that God created to develop practical renewable fuel sources is the modern extension of that process. Engineering better biofuels is a way to be good stewards of the world God gave us.

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5. Wall Street Journal: “Solving Darwin’s Medical Mystery

“Every generation thinks they have the answers to life’s great questions . . .”

The University of Maryland School of Medicine annually invites specialists to apply modern medical insight to history’s enigmatic sufferers. They recently considered the baffling maladies afflicting Charles Darwin. He suffered intermittent chronic vomiting most of his life, but additional problems struck him after his historic voyage. Gathering clues from photographs and written descriptions, the group believes he had long suffered a non-debilitating chronic ailment but then contracted Chagas’ disease during the voyage of the Beagle. He was bitten by a South American bug now known to carry the parasitic disease. The disease may lie dormant for decades and emerge to cause digestive and cardiac problems. Chagas’ disease was probably the cause of his cardiac disease and death 47 years later.

Of course, given that it is impossible to go back and test these conclusions scientifically, Dr. Philip Mackowiak, director of the conference and author of the book Post Mortem: Solving History's Great Medical Mysteries, acknowledges their limitations. But he hopes “that these historical reassessments hold a lesson for today’s physicians. Every generation thinks they have the answers to life’s great questions, and subsequent generations say, ‘Aren’t they quaint? What were they thinking of?’ In trying to do the best we can, we have to be humble and realize that in the final analysis, it [our best answers] may not be all that good.”

Thank you, Dr. Mackowiak, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Even with patients in front of us, we as physicians sometimes find that with the best that science has to offer, answers can elude us. How much more is that true of our efforts when we try to draw scientific conclusions about the past. We can evaluate scientific evidence left from the past, but we can never go back to test our interpretations to see if we were right. Modern science needs to borrow a page from Dr. Mackowiak’s book of humility.

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And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Moses probably saw the Middle Kingdom temple dedicated to the crocodile god. Now tourists can see it too at the new Madinet Madi visitor center south of Cairo. Built during the reign of Amenemhat III of the 12th Dynasty, the temple honored Sobek, the crocodile-headed god, by raising crocodiles to be mummified. Traditional dates for Amenemhat III are about 1859–1813 B.C., but both secular and Christian Egyptologists now argue for a more recent date. That recent date (around 1500 B.C.) would correspond to the time of the Israelite oppression. Amenhamet’s daughter, Sobekneferu, named for the crocodile god, was probably Moses’s foster mother. For more information about Egyptian chronology and the Bible see Chapter 24: Doesn’t Egyptian Chronology Prove That the Bible Is Unreliable?
  • Astronomers at the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in Paris have developed a computer simulation suggesting that planet Gliese 581d could be habitable. By habitable, they mean that under the right conditions it could hold onto an atmosphere and have liquid water. Evolutionary scientists consider these the minimal necessary conditions under which life could evolve. Gliese 581d thus could be habitable if it has a carbon dioxide atmosphere sufficiently dense to keep the planet warm so the water wouldn’t all freeze. Read more about alien life at “I’d Love to Baptise an Alien” and News to Note, December 19, 2009.
  • A giant ant fossil from Wyoming resembles winged ant fossils found in Europe. Scientists are trying to figure out how the giant ant—presumed to require tropical temperatures like today’s biggest ants--crossed a cold land bridge to North America. They answer that the earth’s atmosphere was very different then, resulting in episodes of intense global warming. They assume the ant crossed during a heat wave. In terms of Flood geology, however, the land bridge wasn’t formed until after the Flood (over 4,000 years ago), the earth’s atmosphere was the same as today’s except with no smog, and the king-sized ant got a ride to its grave in Wyoming on a watery express.
  • Volcanologists have produced an accurate simulation of the Mount St. Helens eruption. Seismic activity had predicted the eruption, but not the rapidity and extent of the devastation. The new simulation takes into consideration the effect of gravity on the ash and gases as well as the topography of the area and the physics of the blast. Such simulations may help make accurate predictions when evaluating seismic data in the future and also provide creation scientists with a real-life model of the rapidity with which catastrophic geologic events can remodel the earth. Mount St. Helens is important because it is a laboratory to examine scientific models related to some geologic effects of the global Flood, and it provides a laboratory for analyses of radiometric dating methods since the actual age of the volcanic rocks is known. For more information, see News to Note, May 22, 2010.
  • A new book by economist Robert Fogel suggests that “technology has sped human evolution in an unprecedented way during the past century.” Citing improvements in size, shape, and longevity of the human body which have occurred “more rapidly during the past three centuries than over many previous millennia,” the book says the human evolution has “outpaced traditional evolution” in a timeframe “minutely short by the standards of Darwinian evolution.” We hasten to point out that this short time frame has been made possible by the fact that no evolution was involved. Bigger healthier humans are still humans. In fact, given a long enough time frame, evolution still could not happen because the human genome cannot acquire new information to evolve into a higher order of being.
  • Among the mocking commentary about Answers in Genesis that occurred this past week as the Ark Encounter project (managed by a non-profit subsidiary of AiG) crossed another hurdle, some humanist detractors tied the future full-size Ark into another topic of their derision of Christianity: the prediction by radio broadcaster Harold Camping that the rapture will occur today. Their mocking took the form: “Why start building an Ark when the rapture is about to occur?” AiG normally does not delve into eschatology, but because adherents to today’s rapture argue that the Flood of Genesis occurred in the year 4990 BC and that 7,000 years later another judgment was due (the year AD 2011), it’s a question that a Genesis-based ministry has been frequently receiving. For our recent article on the May 21 predicted rapture, see Feedback: Can We Know? Regardless when the rapture occurs, God’s Word remains reliable and authoritative, and it is our prayer nobody will reject the Bible because a man’s prophecy goes unfilled today.

For more information: Get Answers

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  1. McLerran Dan. 2011. The Last Neanderthals? Popular-Archaeology.com. Back
  2. Page, Louise R. 2011. Developmental modularity and phenotypic novelty within a biphasic life cycle: morphogenesis of a cone snail venom gland. (Published online before print May 18, 2011, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0501 Proc. R. Soc. B). Back (1) Back (2)
  3. Barak, Tanyeri, et al. 2011. Recessive LAMC3 mutations cause malformations of occipital cortical development (Published online before print Nature Genetics doi:10.1038/ng.836). Back
  4. Blankenship et al. 2011. Comparing Photosynthetic and Photovoltaic Efficiencies and Recognizing the Potential for Improvement. Science 332 no. 6031:805–809. Back