1. PysOrg: “Cyborg insects generate power for their own neural control

Energizer bug’s backpack is a battery of God’s own design.

Micro-air-vehicles (MAVs) have been on the drawing board for years. Tiny flying robots—insect size—can be programmed for search-and-rescue, surveillance, hazard assessment, and explosive detection. By studying insect flight and developing materials to imitate biological structures, some of the problems of aerodynamics and durability have been conquered.

Oddly enough, the toughest problem has been power. “Currently, all these MAV prototypes . . . have a maximum flight time of 5–10 min due to limited battery size,” according to a paper just published in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.1 Solar panels were tried, but they only operate on sunny days.

Biomimicry is the science of copying designs found in nature. In this case, copying wasn’t enough. For now, it looks like MAVs will need to be hybrids with man’s payloads riding on God’s designs. These “cyborg insect-o-nauts” will hopefully use their own power to take their payloads where man cannot go. The biggest trick is determining how to harness insect energy and use it to power the payload.

“Although we have seen a tremendous and exciting effort in MAV development in the last decade, cyborg insects are much more advantageous when it comes to the aerodynamic performance, flight duration, payload capability, and energy storage at miniaturized scales,” said Ethem Erkan Aktakka of the University of Michigan. “The current technology is simply not there yet to beat nature's evolution over several thousands of years.”

Aktakka’s team has developed a tiny backpack battery for Green June Beetles. The bug should be able to carry two tiny lightweight spiral generators attached at the base of its wings. These generators convert the mechanical energy of wing vibrations to enough electrical energy to power whatever equipment the itsy-bitsy beast carries. The generators are designed to take advantage of a wide variety of vibrations since bugs don’t always flap at the same speed.

We are reminded that even the “simplest” single-celled creatures are far from simple, harboring design secrets put there by our Creator. Here we see a beautiful example of not only “God did it first”—the foundation on which biomimicry truly rests—but also of “God did it so well that people haven’t yet figured out how to copy it.” Millions of years of random evolution didn’t assemble something so intricate that our engineers struggle to copy it; God did.

For more information:

  • Don’t miss the January 2012 issue of Answers magazine. The theme will be “God Invented It First.” The issue will include articles about some fascinating examples of biomimetics, including more about insect flight.
  • Get Answers: Design Features

2. Dailytech: “Scientists: ‘Jurassic Mother’ Rat is man’s Oldest Mammalian Ancestor

Once upon a time, in a Jurassic park long, long ago, grandmother rat climbed a tree.

Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo of the Carnegie Museum has done it again. Specializing in early mammalian evolution, he has just published an analysis of Juramaia sinensis, the latest “jewel among the spectacular treasure chest of the Chinese fossil record.” The half-ounce fur-ball’s name says it all: Juramaia sinensis means “Jurassic mother from China.”2

Paleontologists around the world are excited about this fossil because of its apparent age—160.7 million years based on argon dating of nearby rocks. The critter’s teeth are typical of those found in placental mammals. (Structures like pouches haven’t shown up in fossils, but living marsupials have more teeth than placentals.) The previous placental record holder (Eomaia-“dawn mother”) dates 35 million years younger, so Dr. Luo says that this discovery “puts down a new evolutionary milestone for the origin of placental mammals.”3

In paleontology, older is generally better. In this case the excitement goes further because the dates on Juramaia correlate with a 2007 molecular clock calculation of 147.7 million years4 for the appearance of placental mammals and an even more appealing 2009 calculation of 143–178 million years with a median value of 160 million.5 Since 160 million and 160.7 million match so beautifully, evolutionary paleontologists are delighted with these findings.

Previous molecular clock calculations put the divergence of placentals from marsupials at about 122–125 million years ago, closely matching Eomaia’s dates. Another molecular clock analysis in 20076 dated the divergence even more recently (84 million years ago). But those who accept the earlier dating are undisturbed. From their point of view, the new Jurassic mother is just more grandmotherly, being a reasonable candidate for the common ancestor of both marsupials and placentals. As Robert Asher of Cambridge said, ““One possible alternative interpretation is that Juramaia represents an animal close to the common ancestor of marsupials and placentals, but one that is neither eutherian [placental] or metatherian (the stem group of marsupials). That would leave the previous eutherian record and calibration date of 125 million years ago intact.”7

Since the fossil’s long toes resemble those of modern tree-climbers,8 Dr. Luo believes he has pieced together the story of how early mammals managed to thrive amongst the Jurassic dinosaurs. He says, “The divergence of eutherian mammals from marsupials eventually led to placental birth and reproduction that are so crucial for the evolutionary success of placentals. But it is their early adaptation to exploit niches on the tree that paved their way toward this success.” There he believes the placental mammals bided their time until the dinosaurs became extinct 95 million years later and left the earth’s terrestrial ecosystems wide-open for mammalian domination.

Marsupials can have a rudimentary placenta before birthing their immature young, so evolutionists assume placentals and marsupials shared a common ancestor. Using the fossil record and molecular clocks to come up with a date for this event has been a priority for evolutionists.

Molecular clocks are built upon circular reasoning and the presupposition that existence of some shared genes implies common ancestry. The assumptions are:

  1. that mutations accumulate to produce new kinds of creatures,
  2. that the radiometric dates assigned to the fossil record are accurate, and
  3. that creatures in the fossil record evolved into one another.

Results vary depending on the statistical method and the particular set of assumptions. As authors of the 2009 study note, “Calibration [of molecular clocks] remains a contentious aspect of molecular dating, with unavoidable subjectivity in the number and choice of calibration nodes and the nature of the constraints applied to the chosen nodes.”9

So has Dr. Luo discovered the Jurassic ancestor of placental mammals? No. He has analyzed the fossil of a creature whose teeth and possibly fossilized hairs suggest it was a placental mammal. The radiometric dating methods used to date the nearby rocks are fraught with their own unprovable assumptions.10 And because all organisms had a Common Designer and many share common designs, it is no surprise that some genes show up in multiple organisms.

Those committed to an evolutionary worldview are excited about this discovery because the radiometric dates of the neighborhood rocks match one of the many sets of molecular dates to emerge in recent years. Modern people are generally very impressed with the aura of accuracy that accompanies anything with numerical data attached—even if the data can be selected from a range of available choices in order to match the presuppositional needs of the moment.

3. Livescience: “Neanderthal survival story revealed in Jersey caves

Neanderthal technical prowess belies brutish reputation.

Continuing excavation at La Cotte de St. Brelade on the Channel Island of Jersey is doing more than filling up museums. The ravine has produced over 250,000 stone tools. But it isn’t just the numbers that are impressive but the quality of Neanderthal workmanship.

“Archaeologists have developed new ways of looking at stone tools since La Cotte de St Brelade was excavated in the 1970s,” says Dr. Beccy Scott from the British Museum and the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project. “We have been using these techniques to look at how Neanderthals were making and using the tools they left at La Cotte.”

Contrary to their reputation as some sort of sub-human brute, Neanderthals displayed a great deal of technological skill in the manufacture of their tools. Dr. Scott adds, “Neanderthals were travelling to Jersey already equipped with good quality flint tools, then reworking them, very, very carefully so as not to waste anything. They were extremely good at recycling.”

The collapsed caves contain ice age sediments and suggest intermittent periods of occupation, possibly related to changing climate conditions. The area was likely linked by land to the European mainland during the Ice Age due to lowered sea levels, so archaeologists hope to find additional submerged sites nearby.

Evolutionists maintain that Neanderthals died out 30,000 years ago. In the light of archaeological and genetic evidence that Neanderthals and “modern humans” coexisted and interbred, their scenarios must allow for an overlap in the human evolutionary tree.

It is unfortunate that the evolutionary scenario long painted Neanderthals as inherently inferior subhumans. The more we learn about them, the more obvious it is that they were simply a widespread group of normal human beings with some distinctive variations. Like the rest of humanity, their ancestors descended from Noah’s family and were among those who God dispersed from Babel. Just as so-called racial groups developed some distinctions when populations became isolated in the post-Flood, post-Babel world, so did the Neanderthals. And like some other people groups over the years, they eventually died out. Neanderthals were not only fully human but evidently were very skilled people coping with the harsh world of the post-Flood Ice Age. Read more about the rehabilitation of the Neanderthal image and their life during the Ice Age at Neandertal Man—The Changing Picture.

4. PhysOrg: “ Ancient whale skulls and directional hearing: A twisted tale

The whale evolutionary tale takes a new twist.

Whale skulls—at least those of toothed whales—are a little twisted. This asymmetry probably helps them decipher echolocation signals as they identify suitable prey. Baleen whales have symmetrical skulls and do not echolocate. Since Darwin, evolutionists have insisted that whales, because they are mammals, must have evolved from land mammals. Land mammals have symmetrical skulls, so evolutionists have puzzled over how the whale skulls got twisted.

The currently accepted final ancestor in the whale evolutionary scenario, the Basilosaurus, is said to have evolved into both toothed and baleen varieties.11 CT scans of Basilosaurus skulls have revealed that they might be a little twisted too. The slight deviation from the midline was thought initially to be a result of distortion during the fossilization process, but four of the six skulls examined were significantly distorted, so researchers from the University of Michigan think the finding is genuine.

Because the Basilosaurus skull also has features commonly associated with hearing, the researchers believe these features evolved together. As the authors of the article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences state, “We conclude that directional asymmetry in archaeocetes [extinct whales] is related to hearing.” They add that these extinct creatures lack bony “evidence of the specialized organs required to produce high-frequency sound,” and therefore, “The sounds they heard likely came from prey that produced sounds at frequencies that archaeocetes could detect and process.”12

“This shows that asymmetry existed much earlier than previously thought—before the baleen whales and toothed whales split,” researcher Julie Fahlke said. “This means that the earliest baleen whales must have had asymmetrical skulls, which later became symmetrical.” The authors assert, “Asymmetry and much of the sonic-frequency range of directional hearing were lost in Oligocene mysticetes [baleen whales] during the shift to low-frequency hearing and bulk-straining predation.”12

This interpretation of their findings is based on the presupposition that all these features evolved. The isolated evolution of skull asymmetry makes no sense if it offers no survival advantage. The claim that asymmetry evolved in concert with other features—the better to hear prey with—lends an air of credibility to the story. However, such stories are spawned by what you already believe. There are no transitional forms to show these features partially developed.

The finding of skull asymmetry in association with other characteristics associated with good hearing makes perfect sense from a creationist perspective. We understand that each creature created in the Creation Week was fully equipped for life and that different created kinds were endowed with different combinations of equipage.

It is possible that the extinct Basilosaurus was of the same created kind as today’s toothed whales, or perhaps it was a created kind that has become extinct. But there is no reason to assume that a common ancestor had to acquire baleen, lose teeth, lose echolocating ability, and even lose skull asymmetry in order to become today’s baleen whales, unless, of course, one is committed to the just-so-story that it simply must be so. If the baleen whale13 did not descend from a primitive whale forebear, then it had no skull asymmetry to lose.

For more information:

5. BBC: “Species count put at 8.7 million

Classification scheme is key to species count.

No one really knows how many species of organisms share the earth. About 1.2 million have been described, but we really have no idea how many there are. “Globally, our best approximation to the total number of species is based on the opinion of taxonomic experts, whose estimates range between 3 and 100 million species.”14

An international team publishing in PlosBiology has come up with another way of tallying species unaccounted for. They estimate there are about 8.7 million species on earth. Of these 2.2 million are marine. They write, “In spite of 250 years of taxonomic classification and over 1.2 million species already catalogued in a central database, our results suggest that some 86% of existing species on Earth and 91% of species in the ocean still await description.”14

So what’s missing? “The rest are primarily going to be smaller organisms, and a large proportion of them will be dwelling in places that are hard to reach or hard to sample, like the deep oceans,” said team member Dr. Derek Tittensor. “When we think of species we tend to think of mammals or birds, which are pretty well known. But when you go to a tropical rainforest, it's easy to find new insects, and when you go to the deep sea and pull up a trawl, 90% of what you get can be undiscovered species.”

The method used to count the missing is an extrapolation based on the classification system itself. "We've been thinking about this for several years now - we've had a look at a number of different approaches, and didn't have any success," Tittensor added. "So this was basically our last chance, the last thing we tried, and it seems to work."

The team looked at the various levels of classification—kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. For each broad group, they catalogued the number of known members in each subcategory. Since the numbers seemed be come out in consistent ratios for the more well-known groups, they assumed the method worked. Then they added up the categories that were short and came up with 8.7 million.

They actually left out bacteria because those numbers didn’t come out consistently.14 The reason, they suspect, has to do with the horizontal transfer of genes between bacteria and the effect that has on species distinctions.

The team did note that the definition of species varies greatly. “Different taxonomic communities (e.g., zoologists, botanists, and bacteriologists) use different levels of differentiation to define a species.” Therefore, they add, “although estimates of the number of species are internally consistent for kingdoms classified under the same conventions, our aggregated predictions . . . should be interpreted with that caution in mind.”14

Commenting on the calculations, Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at London’s Zoological Society, said “I think it's definitely a creative and innovative approach, but like every other method there are potential biases.”

One of those biases is of course the subjective nature of the classification systems, but since the method was predictive for some categories, the team thinks the method at least gives a reasonable estimate of the world’s biodiversity.

Back when Linnaeus developed his classification system, species was used to denote a created kind. The definition changed in subsequent years. Today, species and created kind are not synonymous.

Created kinds are organisms representing or descended from those originally created by God about 6,000 years ago. Organisms within a created kind generally interbreed and produce only more organisms of their own kind “within the limits of preprogrammed information, but with great variation.”15 Organisms that can interbreed are of the same created kind, since God designed organisms to reproduce “after their kind.” Due to loss of information and other factors, however, some organisms lose the ability to interbreed. Created kinds correspond roughly to the family level of the current classification taxons but may vary from order to genus level.

Although evolutionists imbue taxonomic classification with evolutionary implications—believing that the taxonomic groupings roughly depict common ancestry— taxonomy is really nothing more than a useful bookkeeping system to sort and group organisms according to their shared characteristics.

As creationists, we must frequently remind detractors that we do not deny that species vary, change, and even appear over time. The biodiversity represented in the 8.7 million or so species in the world is a testament, not to random chance processes, but to the genetic variability and potential for diversification within the created kinds that God built into the genomes of the originals 6,000 years ago.

For more information:

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • The California Science Center will pay $110,000 to the American Freedom Alliance to settle a lawsuit asserting the CSC was guilty of breach of contract and violation of the right of free speech. The CSC, a California state agency, agreed to rent its IMAX theater to the AFA for the showing of two movies, one pro-evolution and another supporting Intelligent Design. The lawsuit alleged that the CEO of the science center cancelled the contract under pressure from “colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Southern California, the Huntington Library and elsewhere.” According to the settlement, the CSC will now invite the AFA to show the film, Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record. AFA’s lawyer asserts that those behind the cancellation “are part of a subtle but effective movement to marginalize a scientific theory that challenges their worldview,” adding, “Any time public officials stand in the way of legitimate debate, they reveal their hostility toward intellectual freedom, which the Constitution is designed to safeguard.” The Intelligent Design movement points out the impossibilities inherent in the evolutionary worldview and as such has helped educate people about some aspects of the issues. However, by leaving the identity of the “designer” anonymous, it loses much of its power to change lives by failing to answer the questions that can only be answered by the Word of the Creator—questions about sin and suffering and salvation.
  • The thylacine—also called the Tasmanian tiger—has been posthumously vindicated by a study from the University of New South Wales. The dog-like marsupial carnivore with stripes on its back was hunted to extinction by bounty seekers in Tasmania due to its reputation as a sheep-killer. To see if the reputation was deserved, researchers “scanned the skull and then used the same software on it that you would use in engineering, to investigate the stresses on man-made structures, such as bridges and aircraft wings,” explained Dr. Stephen Wroe. Comparing thylacine jaws to those of living animals with known diets, they determined that thylacine’s jaws were much too weak to bring down adult sheep, although it would have been able to prey upon poultry and smaller mammals. It will be interesting to see if this technique can be applied to fossilized skulls. If so, popular conceptions about other extinct creatures’ dietary propensities could be challenged.
  • A second planet has been added to the roster of exoplanets thought to be within habitable zones. HD85512b was found 36 light-years away using planet searcher program in a Chilean observatory. The instrument scans for “wobbles in a star's light, which can indicate the gravitational tugs of orbiting worlds.” About 3.6 times the mass of earth, HD85512b orbits its star in the so-called “habitable zone”—a distance thought to make the existence of liquid water possible. Models of planet formation predict planets with HD85512b’s mass could have an atmosphere similar to ours. However, present-day technology cannot determine whether or not the planet has an atmosphere. Those who believe that life can evolve from non-living chemicals wherever water is found look to planets like this for potential homes of alien life. Commenting on the possibility, astronomer Manfred Cuntz said that the 5.6 billion year age of HD85512b’s solar system “gives life a chance to originate and develop.” Evolutionary ideas gauge our solar system to be only 4.6 billion years old. The nebular hypothesis on which these ages and models of planet formation are based has a number of scientific inconsistencies but remains the prevailing theory among secular astronomers. Could there be aliens? While the Bible doesn’t say “no,” we should keep in mind that the urgent search for alien life is spurred on by an evolutionary worldview.
  • “Estimating a date at which an ancestral lineage originated is an interesting application of genetics, but unfortunately it is beset with difficulties,” according to Edinburgh’s Dr. Jim Wilson, co-author of a recent study of population genetics in Europe. He and Oxford colleagues have analyzed the Y-chromosome of more than 4,500 men from Europe and western Asia. They tracked a genetic marker called R-M269. Previous studies found a trend supporting the contention that farmers from Turkey supplanted the hunting populations of Europe. This team found no such trend, derailing established ideas about the geography and origins of European populations. Dr. Cristian Capelli adds, “At the moment it's not possible to claim anything about the age of this lineage.” This series of studies should remind us that even DNA studies, as foolproof as they sound, are only as good as the technology and assumptions on which they are based. The genomes themselves don’t always follow the rules we expect. Another study this year, for instance, showed that males don’t pass on traits as consistently as we might have predicted. Even population studies, while instructive, don’t give all the answers. As a general rule, just as in this instance, “conclusions about the timing of [this population group’s] origin and dispersal should be viewed with a large degree of caution.”16
  • A statistical analysis by researchers at Oregon State University has determined that permanent evolutionary changes require at least a million years to become set in stone. Referring to observable changes within kinds of organisms, author Josef Uyeda says, “Rapid evolution is clearly a reality over fairly short time periods, sometimes just a few generations.” But he adds, “Those rapid changes do not always persist and may be confined to small populations. For reasons that are not completely clear, the data show the long-term dynamics of evolution to be quite slow. . . It's a paradox as to why evolution should be so slow.” We would point out that the discrepancy exists because genetic variation within a kind is not the same thing as the acquisition of new information to become a different kind. Genetic variation within created kinds has produced the biodiversity we see in today’s world from the original organisms God created 6,000 years ago. But He did not design a way for organisms to obtain the information to evolve into new kinds.

For more information: Get Answers


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Footnotes

  1. Ethem Erkan Aktakka, et al. “Energy scavenging from insect flight.” J. Micromech. Microeng. 21 (2011) 095016 (11pp) DOI:10.1088/0960-1317/21/9/095016 Back
  2. news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/08/110824-placental-mammal-shrew-fossil-earliest-ancestor-evolution-science Back
  3. news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/08/jurassic-mother-found-in-china.html Back
  4. www.nature.com/nature/journal/v446/n7135/full/nature05634.html Back
  5. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2761324/ Back
  6. www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0000384 Back
  7. news.discovery.com/animals/juramaia-oldest-mammal-110824.html Back
  8. www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/nature10291.html Back
  9. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2761324/, supplemental materials page 1 Back
  10. See Radiometric Dating: Back to Basics, Radiometric Dating: Problems with the Assumptions, and Radiometric Dating: Making Sense of the Patterns. Back
  11. Not all evolutionists agree, since the fossil record suggests “Basilosaurus existed at a time when baleen-bearing mysticetes [baleen whales] are known to have existed, and echolocating odontocetes [toothed whales] are presumed to have existed,” according to whale evolution expert Dr. Lawrence Barnes of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, quoted in Evolution: The Grand Experiment by Dr. Carl Werner, page 144. New Leaf Press, 2007. Back
  12. www.pnas.org/content/108/35/14545.full Back (1) Back (2)
  13. News to Note, August 27, 2011 Back
  14. www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127 Back (1) Back (2) Back (3) Back (4)
  15. Chapter 2: Classifying Life Back
  16. rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/08/18/rspb.2011.1044.abstract Back