Jurassic spark part two: the chick-a-gator
Chickens with alligator-like snouts developed by Harvard evolutionary biologist Arkhat Abzhanov have supposedly “rewound evolution.”1 As evolutionary paleontologist Jack Horner has asserted, “You can’t make a dinosaur out of a chicken, if evolution doesn’t work.”2 Rewinding evolution would supposedly prove evolution happened in the first place.
In order to roll the chicken’s genetic clock back to its presumed Cretaceous ancestor, Abzhanov inserted a protein gel into the eggs to inhibit certain gene regulators. Therefore, genes which should have been regulated weren’t, bones which normally fuse into a beak didn’t,3 and “Dr. Abzhanov was able to change the evolutionary path of chickens.” Abzhanov said, “It looks exactly like a snout looks in an alligator [at this stage].”
Just as we pointed out in an article about Horner’s efforts to produce a “chickenosaurus,”2 such a creature still has a chicken genome. Like a “chickenosaurus,” a “chick-a-gator” would only be a defective bird, not a new kind of creature. The genome itself gained no new information. Like mutations, gene-regulator-zappers destroy information; they don’t create anything.
Nevertheless, Abzhanov “dreams of turning chickens back into Maniraptora, small dinosaurs thought to have given rise to the 10,000 species of birds around today.”3
Similar gene sequences appear in genomes of many different creatures along with regulatory genes to control their proper expression. This principle forms the basis for Abzhanov’s experiment. Given the lack of evidence that accumulation of mutations can create genetic blueprints for new kinds of creatures, this is now a common approach to explain how evolution happened.
Evolutionists now assert that the evolution of one organism into another is often a matter of flipping a few switches. This approach oversimplifies the complexity of genetic regulation. Furthermore, from an evolutionary standpoint, there is no reason why unused gene sequences would be retained in the genomes of creatures. And most significantly, this approach still begs the question of where any of that information—information to code for proteins or to coordinate genetic expression—came from in the first place.
From a creationist standpoint, the presence of many of the same gene sequences fine-tuned by complex gene regulators is easily understood. God is our Common Designer. Many proteins and other molecules show up in multiple creatures. God did not reinvent a new kind of biochemistry and all new designs for every creature. Instead He reused many good designs in different ways. And the DNA blueprints to make these chemicals appear to be “cut-and-pasted” throughout the living creatures of the world.
Some have mentioned that research like this might find its application in the prevention of birth defects, certainly a laudable goal. Yet we should keep in mind that, should any malformations due to gene regulator aberrancies become amenable to genetically engineered intervention, it will not be the acceptance of evolutionary principles by scientists that deserves the credit. What is really being explored in the “chick-a-gator” and the “chickenosaurus” is gene regulation and expression within an organism. The gene regulators in a genome are just as specific to an organism as the rest of the genome. And that deserves more attention than trying to prove evolution happened.
Sulfur-based life: for real?? And what does Australian sandstone have to do with Mars?
In the struggle to see who can find the oldest fossils, the team of Wacey and Brasier has struck a new blow using a battery of analytical techniques to authenticate a biological origin for stromatolites from Strelley Pool, Australia. Stromatolites are finely layered dome-shaped structures found in sedimentary rocks. Those of biologic origin are created by layers of microorganisms (including some sulfur-eating bacteria) as well as the precipitated minerals and grit in which they have entombed themselves. “Such bacteria are still common today. Sulphur bacteria are found in smelly ditches, soil, hot springs, hydrothermal vents - anywhere where there's little free oxygen,” explains Oxford’s Professor Martin Brasier.
Strelley Pool’s stromatolite-containing rocks are sandwiched between layers of volcanic rock.4 Radiometric dating of these volcanic rocks has produced a date of 3.4 billion years for the trapped sedimentary rock. Therefore, if researchers can prove that their samples are really of biologic origin, they will have demonstrated that life existed at the time these Archean rock layers—among the lowest (and therefore earliest) in the Precambrian rock record—formed.
“At last we have good solid evidence for life over 3.4 billion years ago. It confirms there were bacteria at this time, living without oxygen,” says Brasier. It surprises many evolutionists that life evolved so “soon” after, as they contend, a devastating asteroid bombardment 3.85 billion years ago sterilized the earth by “heating the surface to molten rock and boiling the oceans into an incandescent mist.”5
The astrobiological application of their conclusion—that life evolved on an anoxic earth in less than a billion years—is that life could certainly have evolved on hostile worlds in outer space. “Could these sorts of things exist on Mars? It's just about conceivable,” says Brasier. “But it would need these approaches -- mapping the chemistry of any microfossils in fine detail and convincing three-dimensional images -- to support any evidence for life on Mars.”4
The chemical mapping and 3D-imaging Brasier speaks of are methods he used in his effort to confirm that this Strelley Pool sandstone contains microfossils of bacteria and evidence of their rock-forming activity. Modern stromatolites are an ecosystem sandwich consisting of a layer of photosynthetic cyanobacteria overlying a layer of sulfur-metabolizing bacteria. The lower tiers of bacteria interact chemically with rocky debris, creating a sort of cement tomb. These layers build up to form stromatolites.
Three-dimensional images of the Strelley Pool sandstone samples suggest the shapes of bacteria and their tubular tombs, but pictures can be deceiving. More convincing evidence of biological origin is the fact that these “microfossils” are fused to pyrite—an iron-sulfur mineral—which can form when sulfur-eating bacteria interact with iron-bearing minerals. The pyrite crystals contain lower molecular weight sulfur isotopes. Living organisms tend to “prefer” reacting with such lighter isotopes, so the researchers “interpret the pyrite crystals as the metabolic by-products of these cells.”6
“Life likes lighter isotopes, so if you have a light signature in these minerals then it looks biological,” explains Dr. David Wacey. “There are ways to get the same signature without biology, but that generally requires very high temperatures. So when you put together the light isotope signature with the fact that the pyrite is right next to the microfossils - just a couple of microns away - then it really does look like there was a whole sulphur ecosystem there.
As creationists we would not be surprised to find that the Strelley Pool sandstone contains bona-fide fossilized biological remains. We do not, however, accept the 3.4 billion year date as it not only contradicts Scriptural timetables but also is based on unprovable assumptions.
The Archean rock layers are believed by many creationist geologists to have been formed very early in the Creation week. Since microorganisms function ecologically as an interface between the inorganic and the biological, it would be no surprise to learn that God populated that early earth with these tiny mineral processors. And while larger organisms such as those found in higher rock layers needed to be buried rapidly and catastrophically to fossilize, microorganisms are a different story. In the more stable environment of the pre-Flood world, their tiny forms would have easily been buried and preserved7 leaving many such rocky remnants from that time for us to study.
The living stromatolites of today (found in many places but particularly in Australia and the Bahamas) appear to be very similar to fossil stromatolites. Since they survive quite nicely in our oxygenated world today, their presence in some of the lowest rock layers is not evidence that the world then had a non-oxygen atmosphere. The notion of an anoxic early earth does not survive careful geologic scrutiny but is needed by evolutionists to explain how evolving biological systems could avoid being oxidized.8
Thus, the existence of these stromatolite structures in this Archean rock layer—whether they were biologically generated or not—is consistent with a biblical understanding of earth’s history. But what can actually be seen in these Strelley Pool stromatolites does not support the idea that life evolved from chemicals, does not prove that billions of years elapsed on earth with or without oxygen, and does not tell us anything about potential life on Mars. The leaps of logic made by these scientists are due to their evolutionary faith and are simply not substantiated by the observable data.
Another big mouth beast becomes an honorary member of the baleen club.
“The earliest baleen whales lacked one of the hallmarks of all living (and most fossil) baleen whales: a loose lower jaw joint,” explains Erich Fitzgerald, of Australia’s Museum Victoria. “Without that loose lower jaw joint, living baleen whales could simply not feed the way they do.” Fitzgerald is describing the newly discovered fossil skull of an extinct whale, Janjucetus hunderi.
Whales can be subdivided into toothed whales and filter-feeding baleen whales. Evolutionists maintain that whales evolved from land animals, but they have been unable to decide how the big baleen-containing jaw evolved from a toothed ancestor. Fitzgerald states that now he has been “able to discover the sequence of jaw evolution from the earliest whales to the modern giants of the sea.”9
Like one other extinct whale, the Mammalodon, Janjucetus has a wide upper jaw giving it a large “palate surface area and oral cavity volume.”10 Mysticetes—baleen whales—all have a big upper mouth. The large capacity of their mouths allows them to strain huge volumes of water for plankton. But the big upper mouth isn’t enough. Lacking teeth, all living baleen whales have baleen—keratin combs to filter their food from the water—but they also have a lower jaw which is unfused in the front. This elastic connection of the jawbones at the chin allows the bones to rotate outward for a really huge gulp of plankton-containing water. Evolutionists believe the loose lower jaw was the “key innovation [which] supported the evolution of titanic body sizes and the extraordinary success of mysticetes,” enabling them to consume huge quantities of food.10 (Toothed whales tend to be much smaller, like the dolphin-sized Janjucetus.)
Janjucetus and Mammalodon do not have the loose lower jaw characteristic of baleen whales. In fact, they do not even have baleen. Instead they each have a full set of teeth. Yet because they have large palates, they are now classified as baleen whales.
“The first step towards the huge mouths of baleen whales may have been increasing the width of the upper jaw [to] suck fish and squid into the mouth one-at-a-time,”11 according to Fitzgerald. “Janjucetus and the earliest mysticetes did not have the loose lower jaws that allows [sic] their living cousins to increase their mouth size and engulf huge volumes of seawater when filter-feeding on plankton such as krill and small fish. Janjucetus is a baleen whale, but not as we know them.”
Classification systems exist to organize knowledge by grouping similar organisms. The key hallmarks of the “mysticete” category—baleen and a loose lower jaw—are missing from Janjucetus and Mammalodon. Yet they are now considered ancestral members of the mysticete category simply because they have a wide palate. These fossils are not transitional forms or missing links. They simply are the skulls of toothed whales with big mouths. The ability to line up a series of fossils in a way to allow a just-so-story to be spun about them is not scientific evidence that the story is true.
There have been a series of candidates for the whale’s terrestrial ancestor. They get debunked regularly when morphological or genetic data once again reveals discrepancies. In this case, however, the researchers are not talking about the land-to-sea evolutionary sequence but rather the development of two completely different jaw types. All of the animals in this scenario are whales.
We can ask whether baleen and toothed whales were of the same created kind which diversified or whether they were different created kinds from the beginning. The vast differences between the toothed and baleen morphology at least make the “different kinds from the beginning” scenario a reasonable possibility. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald’s reference to his “toothed mysticete”10 is an oxymoron.
Home-cooked meals: secret of our evolutionary leap
Because cooked and processed food is easy to chew, it can be consumed quickly. Harvard researchers wondered if the advent of cooking facilitated the evolutionary leap of human ancestors by leaving them well-fed with more time to think.
“The ancestors of modern humans who invented food processing (including cooking) gained critical advantages in survival and fitness through increased caloric intake,” the researchers write in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.12
To assess the amount of time ancient hominids spent eating, the team compared the time people and apes today spend eating. They corrected for body size since being bigger means you need more calories. They found that apes still spend ten times more time chewing their food than people do.
Because humans have smaller molars than apes, the researchers assume that time spent eating correlates with tooth size. Their presumption is that hominids with very small teeth must cook or process food to survive and therefore are also able to eat quickly. On the flip side, big teeth belong to creatures that spend lots of time chewing raw food. Therefore, the team measured the molar size of apes, modern humans, and an assortment of hominid fossils. They used molar size to determine how much time each subject spent eating.
The researchers attribute the evolutionary leaps from apes to “early Homo” to H. erectus and beyond to dietary improvement. According to co-author Chris Organ, “In the big picture, eating cooked food has huge ramifications.” They believe this leap happened because H. erectus became adept at processing food, making it possible to consume nutritious calorie-dense food quickly, leaving more time for intellectual pursuits.
The three hominids supposedly on the evolutionary fast track—H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens—are all fully human. Despite assertions that H. erectus and H. neanderthalensis were our evolutionary ancestors, genetic evidence has demonstrated that Neanderthals and H. sapiens coexisted and interbred. The cranial capacities of these three all fall within the normal range for modern humans.13 Furthermore, cranial capacity in modern humans does not correlate with intelligence. Since all three have cranial capacities in the modern human spectrum of normality (because they are human), we should not be surprised that their tooth sizes are comparable.
Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens all have much smaller teeth than apes suggesting they processed their food and were able to spend less time eating. By contrast, the authors write that “reduction in molar size in early Homo (H. habilis and H. rudolfensis) is explicable by phylogeny and body size alone [emphasis mine].”12 Their final conclusion, however, seems less definite. They write, “Facultative food processing, including cooking, likely originated . . . before the appearance of H. erectus, perhaps even in H. habilis or H. rudolfensis. Although distinct morphological correlates of feeding time are difficult to distinguish in these species, inference of feeding time based on body size and phylogenetic position suggests that H. habilis is within the human range . . . whereas H. rudolfensis . . . borders the human range. [emphases mine]”14
What are we to make of the contradictory statements about H. habilis and H. rudolfensis? At one point the authors indicate these “early Homo” fossils did not deviate from ape proportions in their tooth size, implying they did not process food or spend less time eating. In their conclusion, however, they indicate the tooth size of the “early Homo” fossils fell in the human range and said their inferences about the tooth size suggested “early Homo” did process food.
The authors give a clue when they note that “distinct morphological correlates of feeding time are difficult to distinguish.” H. habilis is a poorly defined collection of human and ape fragments. Therefore, it is hard to know what the team was really measuring. Two decades after the first H. habilis was discovered, for instance, the first example with the skull and body both present was found. That H. habilis was only an australopithecine ape.15 In the case of H. rudolfensis, there is even less fossil evidence. The prime specimen of H. rudolfensis consists of a toothless skull with many gaps that can be assembled to appear human or apelike. Its body size is difficult to estimate, since there is none to measure. In other words, they don’t have enough pieces to really draw conclusions. But apparently in an effort to keep H. habilis and H. rudolfensis in their designated spot as purported missing links, the authors then propose they could have been learning to cook.
These researchers made a number of leaps, such as assuming that the time spent eating could be determined by tooth size and that small teeth were able to evolve because hominids learned to cook. Their biggest assumption was that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor. Their hedged assertion about the missing links perpetuates that belief on the basis of scanty data.
What this study really showed is that humans have smaller teeth than apes, past and present. It doesn’t explain why. The smaller human size teeth showed up in all the well-documented human varieties. But dietary discoveries do not have to be postulated to explain smaller human teeth: they’re standard equipment.
Galileo groans as he’s trotted out again.
Dr. Karl Giberson, writing in the Huffington Post, continues his assault on the historicity of Adam and Eve. He cajoles Christians with faulty history and condescending metaphors teaching half-truths about God’s Word.
Giberson trots out Galileo to accuse Christians of using the Bible to ignore real science. He says that the Church’s literal interpretation of Psalm 93 was its basis for persecuting Galileo. Giberson writes:
The Bible was quite clear that the earth was fixed and said so in so many words: “The earth is fixed and cannot be moved” wrote the Psalmist with unfortunate clarity in chapter 93.
First, Giberson ignores the history. Galileo was not persecuted on the basis of the Bible, but on the basis of unbiblical Aristotelian ideas the Roman Catholic Church had adopted. The Bible was not the problem. The problem was that the Church mingled the Bible with pagan science.16
While accusing creationists of ignoring ordinary principles of good reading, like attention to “culture, author intent, literary form, historical setting, anticipated audience and so on,” Giberson himself ignores the context, accusing Psalm 93 of “unfortunate clarity.” A quick reading of Psalm 93:1-2, however, reveals that the eternality of the Lord’s reign is being proclaimed. In stating, “Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved. Your throne is established from old,” the Hebrew writer used a word meaning “shaken by outside forces.” In other words, neither the world God made nor His sovereignty can be disturbed or destroyed by outside forces. The meaning is clear from the context without even looking up the Hebrew. The passage does not mean the earth does not move unless the careless reader removes it from context.
Giberson concedes that the Adam-issue is theologically significant because of the connection to Christ. But he trivializes that significance by saying, “There are biblical references to Adam and Eve that, if taken literally, suggest they were real people. But these references are no more compelling than those made by the Psalmist to a fixed earth.”
Finally, Giberson concludes by likening the Bible to a library. A library contains many genres—and the Bible does. But he mentions this library also contains some works of fiction and adds, “The assumption that identifying one part as fiction undermines the factual character of another part is ludicrous.”
God did not dabble in fiction when He gave us His Word. He used around 40 writers to pen His Word over the course of 1500 years, yet the entire Bible is internally consistent even in the fine points of chronology. Its prophecies are true. When it speaks of science, it describes what we see in the world.
Jesus, Peter, and Paul treated Genesis as the foundation of New Testament theology. Jesus referred to Adam and Eve as real people (Matthew 19:4) created in the beginning. Peter prophesied (2 Peter 3:5–6) of the time when the world would deny the Creation and the Flood. Paul explained the origin of death (Romans 5:14–19), the Curse on Creation (Romans 8:20–22), and the role of Jesus Christ as the Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:21–22) on the basis of a factual Genesis. Jesus said, “For if you believed Moses,you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46).
Like the Church in Galileo’s day, many Christians today try to blend Christianity with “contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20). They confuse the observable facts of science with faith-based worldview-dependent assertions and interpretations. And they ultimately compromise with the world and undermine their own faith and the faith of others. We need to stand firmly on God’s Word, studying it carefully, reading it naturally, and never compromising what it says.
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