Mammals grew bigger brains “the better to smell you, my dear!”
Paleontologists reporting in Science have concluded that it wasn’t survival of the smartest but survival of the sniffers that made larger brain size an evolutionary advantage. “Mammals didn’t get our larger brains for thinking,” says co-author Zhe-Xi Luo. “Our sense of smell was far more important.”
Using CT scans to trace the internal contours of skulls, a 3-D “virtual endocast” of each brain was simulated. The mammalian family tree was lined up to track evolutionary progress. First in line were the cynodonts—the reptile branch that presumably evolved into mammals while the dinosaurs were busy evolving into birds. Then came the two featured stars of the study: Morganucodon and Hadrocodium, thought by most evolutionists to be the earliest proto-mammals. Then came the skulls of “primitive” and modern mammals.
Compared to cynodonts, the Morganucodon’s brain appeared 50% larger, and the Hadrocodium’s, 50% larger than Morganucodon’s. The increase was primarily in the olfactory bulbs. (Of course, the relative brain to body size is in view here; otherwise, data ascribing the biggest proto-mammalian brain to the Hadrocodium, a creature weighing less than a paper-clip would be comical.) A better sense of smell presumably allowed proto-mammals to survive and reproduce, so that their descendants could eventually evolve into creatures with big enough brains to allow “full expression of a huge odorant receptor genome.”1
Liu’s study “provides the first evidence of the relative size of the brains and which parts were initially enlarging during critical stages in the evolution of modern mammalian brains,” says R. Glenn Northcutt, another endocast pioneer.2
The claim that mammals evolved from reptiles is primarily based on comparative jaw/ear anatomy. Evolutionists postulate that certain jaw bones in reptilian ancestors migrated over time to the middle ear of ancestral mammals.3 Dr. Luo’s work in this area has “literally altered science’s view of how mammals originated and evolved.”4 In 2001 his conclusions about Hadrocodium’s ear bones and jaw promoted that tiny creature to “closest known relative” of mammals. He concluded that the evolving big brain forced the ear bones apart.5 Apparently the Hadrocodium was using that brain to sniff out its world.
The problem with lining up fossils and postulating that each transitioned into the next is that such comparisons focus on a limited number of features, such as jaws and ears. Such an approach ignores many other traits that would have to evolve to build a new class of animal. Close examination reveals that evolution of some characteristics seems at times to have reversed. And there are many unexplained gaps.
Furthermore, reptiles have no way to acquire the new information necessary to become mammals. Creatures with a well-developed sense of smell—those fully expressing their “huge odorant receptor genome”—might well have a survival advantage. But the fossil record has yet to produce any missing links. “Descent from a common ancestor has never been observed. It is simply an interpretation of externally observed differences, based on an evolutionary world view.”6
Tropical Huntsman spider trapped in Baltic amber for millions of years?
Arachnologists and paleontologists have found a way to peer through opacified amber to see if an ancient Huntsman spider is really what 19th century naturalist Georg Karl Berendt said it was. “These old, historical amber pieces have reacted with oxygen over time and are now often dark or cracked, making it hard to see the animal specimens inside,” says Dr. David Penney.
Because the modern Huntsman spider is a very active spider native to the tropics and southern Europe, experts wondered if Berendt had erred identifying this member of his spider collection. Using a CT scanner, a finely detailed 3-D image of the spider was produced. “We were able to show that the fossil is unquestionably a Huntsman spider and belongs to a genus called Eusparassus, which lives in the tropics and also Europe 50 million years ago,” reports Dr. Penney.
The spider is preserved in Baltic amber, which like all amber is hardened polymerized tree resin. The actual chemical composition of amber depends upon the kind of tree which produced it. Baltic amber contains large quantities of the chemical succinite, and its tree of origin is still debated. As its name suggests, Baltic amber is found throughout northern Europe, and of all amber it tends to have the richest fossil content. Baltic amber is commonly dated at 35–50 million years old based on surrounding rocks. Thus, the Huntsman spider being examined is believed by the researchers to be 50 million years old.
Evidently, Huntsman spiders have made no evolutionary progress or even any speciation changes since this one managed to get himself entombed. He appears as modern as his descendants. This fact does not surprise us, since we are confident that the amber is no more than a few thousand years old.
Actually, the finding of amber-trapped modern-appearing insects from far away regions is quite consistent with the scrambling of amber fossils expected in the wake of the worldwide Flood or the subsequent Ice Age. The structural details of more amber-trapped creatures should soon become available as this non-destructive technique is used to see what’s hidden inside more pieces of the preserving polymer. As Dr. Penney says, now “other scientifically important specimens in historical pieces of darkened amber can be investigated and compared to their living relatives in the same way.”
Nomadic lice hitching a ride on flies direct the course of evolution. Hmmm.
Pigeons and doves are plagued by lice. Wing lice tend to infest multiple species, but body lice are species-specific unless artificially transferred. Evolutionary biologists at the University of Utah believe that “the evolutionary history of body lice . . . parallels that of the host [bird] more closely than does the evolutionary history of wing lice.”7 Therefore, they designed an experiment to see how this evolution happens. (Well, sort of.)
What they really designed was a way to show how the speciation of organisms (birds and lice) could be interdependent, influenced in this case by yet another organism (a fly). They then assumed they had discovered something about the way new kinds of animals evolved in the unobservable past.
Bird lice sometimes hitch a ride on the parasitic blood-sucking hippoboscid fly. But only the long-legged wing lice seem to be able to attach themselves to the flies. Short-legged body lice can’t get a grip. Constructing an experiment wherein infested pigeons were kept from physical contact with nearby uninfested doves, the researchers spent three years counting the lice on birds housed with hippoboscid flies and those not. As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the wing lice traveled between birds exposed to flies, but the body lice did not.
The Utah researchers are being praised for “using present-day species interactions to convincingly explain evolutionary patterns that emerged millions of years in the past.” They are being hailed for doing “what evolutionary ecologists try to do but rarely accomplish,” namely, “the difficult task of linking current processes to evolutionary change.”
The PNAS abstract blurs the definitions of several key words when it reports:
Reciprocal selective effects between coevolving species are often influenced by interactions with the broader ecological community. Community-level interactions may also influence macroevolutionary patterns of coevolution, such as cospeciation. (emphasis ours)
And the PNAS paper concludes by stating that these nomadic lice provide “just one example of how broad community interactions can influence coevolutionary dynamics over both micro- and macroevolutionary time.”
The authors are incorrectly stating that cospeciation is one of the macroevolutionary patterns of coevolution. But speciation is not a kind of macroevolution; it is a type of microevolution.* Evolutionists like these two terms (micro- and macroevolution) because they imply that small changes that can produce new species eventually add up to big changes producing new kinds of organisms. Speciation (microevolution) does not involve the acquisition of new genetic information but only a reshuffling of the old. Macroevolution would require new genetic information. But birds have remained birds, and lice have remained lice. Thus macroevolution wasn’t demonstrated.
And despite all the praise for their “convincing” explanation of past evolutionary processes, they have not provided any mechanism by which new genetic information could be acquired. Instead they have nicely elucidated a mechanism by which cospeciation of two animals could be prevented by an ecological third party: the flies allow the wing lice to fly the coop whereas the body lice have to stick around and be exposed to whatever conditions influence the natural selection and speciation of their host birds.
*As we comment on the terms microevolution and macroevolution as they are used in the PNAS paper, our preference is that the words not be used at all. We contend it is not the degree of change that is different between the two, but that the type (and direction of change) is different. These two words do not make the differences clear.
The secret of the sponge’s squeeze . . . revealed at last . . .
Movement without muscles: how do sponges do that? Debate has raged for a century. Modern technology has finally shown which of the sponge’s cells are doing the contracting. But the overarching goal of the Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology is to identify the evolutionary forerunners of muscle cells.
A sponge consists of a cavity surrounded by a sandwich-like wall of cells. The outermost cells are called pinacocytes. The innermost cells are called choanocytes. In between is a gelatinous matrix called mesohyl. Mesohyl contains spicules and scattered spindle-shaped cells. Scientists have long debated whether the spindle-shaped cells in the mesohyl cause the sponge to squeeze or whether the skin-like pinacocytes are responsible.
Synchrotron radiation-based X-ray microtomography was used to generate 3-D images during contraction and expansion. Finally scientists know which cells are contracting: the pinacocytes.
Commenting on the importance of this research, Dr. Michael Nickel says, “The early evolution of muscles has not been fully understood so far. According to current scientific knowledge, muscle cells seem to have surfaced from nowhere. But surely there must have been evolutionary predecessor systems.” Now that his research has shown the epithelial layer of the sponge to be the contractile agent, he adds, “There is a lot of evidence that the sponge epithelial cells and the muscle cells of all the other animals are going back to a common contractile cellular predecessor.”
Nothing is known about the mechanism of pinacocyte contractility. Researchers hope that eventual elucidation of the cellular ultrastructure as well as genome analysis will reveal the ancestry of contractile cells.8
Yet even if the same molecular motors (such as actin and myosin) are found to drive the contractility of sponge cells as they do for muscle cells, the evolutionary origins of contractility will not be proven. Non-muscular contractile cells have been examined in other organisms; some utilize actin and myosin, and some utilize other proteins to drive the process. That the same molecules show up in different organisms is not proof of ancestry. God did not devise different kinds of biochemistry for each kind of organism. Biologically and biochemically, living things on earth pretty much follow the same rules because they have a common Designer. It will be interesting to learn in the future what motor proteins are present in the sponge epithelial cells. But economy of design does not prove ancestry.
A team of evolutionary scientists accepted the Great Commission for their Cause by going on the road to preach to the “yokels and morons” in America’s heartland.
Outreach directors at the federally funded National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) were disturbed that many Americans remain skeptical of evolution. They decided to help rural communities overcome fear and ignorance by letting them meet some real evolutionary scientists.
One of them, Craig McClain, says, “All of us know that despite no shortage of evidence of evolution in the world around us, the concept remains controversial. Just under half of Americans believe the theory of evolution is not supported by any confirmed facts,” and a shocking “42% of the public also believes the theory of evolution conflicts with their religious views.”
While NESCent is eager to teach the public “how to be good scientific citizens,” they are particularly concerned about teachers. Saying that “many public high school biology teachers may be overly cautious in advocating for evolutionary biology,” NESCent directors cite lack of sufficient understanding, fear of controversy, and even disbelief as the causes of the problem.
Citing an article9 which refers to people who do not accept evolution as “yokels and morons,” NESCent assistant director McClain expresses concern that anti-evolutionists will use the political process to advance “anti-science agendas.” Many team members feared persecution, having “never immersed [themselves] in the culture wars that surround the field.” The teams attended workshops and role-played to learn how to give convincing answers. And they assured school officials and community leaders that they had no religious or atheist agenda.
But the evolutionary worldview really is a religion. It is a faith based on acceptance of things which cannot be seen or tested. Facts of science are always viewed through the bias of the human observer. The facts of science are not in conflict with a biblical worldview, and creationists are not anti-science. But an evolutionary worldview is predicated on the idea that human beings can determine what is true and right. A belief that the Bible is the Word of God with authority over our lives starting from its very first verse is irreconcilable with evolution.
The culture war is real because what people believe about their origins affects how they live. Were you created by and answerable to a God who loves you? Or are you an insignificant product of random processes? Do you accept God’s version of the truth, or NESCent’s? We each must decide.
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