Skeleton in the closet puts its foot down.
Languishing for half a century in a Polish Museum, an ordinary Protoceratops sat on its secret until paleontologists needed an exhibit for the Polish Academy of Science. While preparing the specimen, Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki and Tomasz Singer noticed a matching footprint fossilized beneath the dinosaur’s pelvic bones. The dinosaur fossil came from the Gobi Desert, which is home to many fossilized footprints, but none like this one.
“The Djadokhta Formation of the Gobi Desert [where this specimen was found] is known for the number and diversity of dinosaur and other vertebrate bones and skeletons found there, but only theropod, hadrosaur and supposed ankylosaurid footprints have been reported from this stratum. . . . Although Protoceratops is an extremely common dinosaur in Mongolia, its footprints have never previously been reported from the Late Cretaceous of the Gobi Desert.”1 Furthermore, the authors of the report published in Cretaceous Research write, “This is possibly the first find of a dinosaur track in close association with an articulated skeleton.”1
Fossil footprint identification is not as simple as it sounds, explains Denver geology professor Martin Lockley. “Generally, we find it very hard even to match dinosaurs with their footprints at the species level,” he explained. “We have a couple of examples in the literature where we say, ‘we're almost certain that this footprint belongs to this species’, but this is an animal actually dead in its tracks.”
There could be a lot more examples waiting to be found, but the practicalities of fossil preparation may get in the way. “Traditionally,” Lockley adds, “palaeontologists look for nice skeletons, and in order to get those out of the rock, they're discarding the matrix. So lots of tracks have been overlooked.”
The uniqueness of the discovery rests in the fact that the footprint was found with a dinosaur skeleton at all. Dinosaur trackways are typically not found in the same deposits as skeletons. According to London paleontologist Paul Barrett, “Trackways usually come from beach deposits, [but] bones are normally found in river channels, where perhaps the animals drowned and were quickly buried and preserved.”
Lockley hopes the find will prompt paleontologists to look harder for these associations because he believes tracks will yield a lot of information about the lives of their owners. He says, “When palaeontologists deal with skeletons, they're dealing with death and decay. But with tracks you can tell how much it weighed, how it moved, if it was running or walking. You can even tell if it was limping. With tracks you're dealing with the living animals.”
Well, at least you’re reminded that they used to be. After all, as Professor Lockley adds, “I think a lot of these dinosaurs could have been caught in flash flooding. . . . If you want to become a fossil, you need to get buried quickly.”
Well, the same can be said of a fossilized footprint. The footprint, having been pressed into a material with reasonably cement-like qualities, would need to be rapidly buried. So how, many people ask, can a footprint get preserved as a fossil? For those that believe slow geologic processes cause fossilization, there is the question of why footprints wouldn’t erode or be simply dissipated by lengthy exposure to the elements before they could be preserved. For young-earth creationists who believe that most fossils formed during the Flood or in its aftermath, there is the question of why the turbulent Floodwaters failed to obliterate the footprints.
The article in Cretaceous Research states, “The track is preserved in reddish-brown sandstone, cemented by carbonate and silica matrix.”2 The carbonate would give the matrix its cement-like quality. But carbonate is a mineral generally associated with mineral-laden water. The Gobi is now a desert. According to the journal article, the Gobi “preserves an arid habitat of sand dunes, with little fresh water apart from oases and arroyos [gully cut by water].”3 The carbonate in the Gobi sandstone suggests a time when it was subjected to mineral-laden water, consistent with the time of the global Flood.
There is additional evidence that the Gobi and the tracks it preserves were once underwater. Sand blown by wind characteristically deposits itself in banded cross-beds at an angle of 30-34 degrees. Sand carried by underwater waves typically deposits itself at an angle of 25 degrees. The cross-beds in the Djadokhta Formation’s sandstone are “consistently at an angle of 25 degrees”4 indicative of a history of underwater deposition.
So, how could the Flood explain track preservation? When the Floodwaters were rising—something Genesis 7:17–18 documents they did for many days—there would have been surges and regressions of water under the influence of volcanic-related seismic activity and tides. Surges of ocean water would have brought in carbonate-laden water and left behind sediments into which animal footprints could have been pressed. Additional surges bearing more loads of sediment could then rapidly bury tracks set in the cement-like carbonate-rich sand, preserving the fossil impressions. (Flash floods usually wash things away rather than deposit loads of sand for rapid burial.)
This Flood model of track fossilization also explains why tracks are rarely preserved with their owners. Fleeing animals overwhelmed by later surges of water would usually be carried away for deposition elsewhere. Apparently, this particular dinosaur—assuming the skeleton and the track belong to the same individual—experienced its death moments after making this track. Interestingly, since Professor Lockley reminds us that we can make some educated guesses about behavior based on footprints, we should note in the photographs and diagrams2 that only the front part of the foot left its impression to be preserved. This suggests the animal may have been on its tiptoes in high water or climbing uphill—perhaps to escape rising water—just before it succumbed.
The Bible does explain what we see in the world. Read more about the ways footprints can fossilize in Fossilized Footprints—A Dinosaur Dilemma.
Leaping blenny leads the way to land.
Many fish have an amphibious streak in their behavior, but the Pacific leaping blenny is “one of the rare living examples of a fish that spends the vast majority of its time on land.”5 The blenny is native to intertidal zones on the rocky coasts of Micronesia. Because the blenny has “made a highly successful transition to land,”5 Dr. Terry Ord spent some time observing the blenny’s behavior hoping to discover some evolutionary secrets of our aquatic past.
“The Pacific leaping blenny offers a unique opportunity to discover in a living animal how a water-land transition has taken place,” says Dr Ord.
We know that our ancient ancestors evolved originally from lobe-finned fish but, today, all such fish are fully aquatic. Within the blenny family, however, are species that are either highly terrestrial, amphibious or entirely aquatic. Remarkably, representatives of all these types can be found on or around Guam, making it a unique evolutionary laboratory.
The fish of course does not have lungs and therefore must “stay moist to enable it to breathe through its gills and skin,” Ord explains. Blennies also do not have limbs but manage to squirm around on the wet rocks. Ord adds, “I can tell you they are very hard to catch and are extremely agile on land. They move quickly over complex rocky surfaces using a unique tail-twisting behaviour combined with expanded pectoral and tail fins that let them cling to almost any firm surface. To reach higher ground in a hurry, they can also twist their bodies and flick their tails to leap many times their own body length.”
Blennies do not voluntarily return to the water, avoiding submersion in spite of the incoming waves. Male blennies are territorial and try to attract females to their rock holes. In fact, blennies must restrict almost all their activities “to a brief period at mid-tide.” Then the water is high enough to keep them moist but low enough to keep them from being swept out to sea.
Dr. Ord believes that these fish “provide a unique opportunity to study the various steps—essentially ‘evolutionary snapshots’—in the invasion of land by marine fish as well as the selection pressures faced at different stages during a major ecological transition.”5 But she says the blennies’ territorial possibilities are quite “constrained by their evolutionary history.”6
By evolutionary standards, the blenny’s move toward land should have provided a survival advantage if those adaptations were to be preserved. Instead, the “evolutionary” changes evidently restricted this fish to a very limited survivable environment. Dr. Ord admits, “At the end of the day, they are still fish, and fish are more suited to life in water, not on land.”6
The blenny is not making any evolutionary progress toward becoming a terrestrial creature. It does not have lungs. It does not have legs. Nor does it have the beginnings of them. It is breathing using the same anatomical equipment God equipped aquatic creatures with on the fifth day of Creation. It is actually fairly restricted in its habitat, perhaps due to a loss of genetic variability within its created kind. But it certainly has not acquired the information to become a land animal. It’s a fish.
Gypsy moth virus packs a weapon of mass dispersion.
Parasites affecting behavior seem like sci-fi. Yet fungi that turn ants into obedient zombies7 and parasitic Toxoplasma8 that makes rats lose their fear of cats are strange realities. The gypsy moth caterpillar is a viral victim that dies in the optimal location to spread its attacker far and wide. The question has been, “Why?”
Researchers from Penn State and Harvard have uncovered the gene behind this gruesome reality. Gypsy moth caterpillars normally munch leaves in the tops of trees at night and descend to hide during the day and also to molt. But caterpillars infected with baculoviruses, “just before death, . . . climb to the top of their host trees to die, liquefy, and release millions of infective virus particles, with dispersal facilitated by rainfall.”9 Baculovirus infection is aptly called “tree top disease.”
Since the virus affects climbing behavior, Kelli Hoover’s team hypothesized that the virus deactivated a hormone that triggers molting. Hormones, because they normally have a number of related effects in an organism, would be the logical targets for behavior-affecting parasites.
The team confirmed that the virus carries a gene called egt. This gene encodes for an enzyme that deactivates the molting hormone. Not being hormonally prompted to stay in the bottom of the trees, the caterpillar climbs to the treetops, dies, and rains its deadly viral load upon a large cohort of its neighbors.
To test their hypothesis, the team infected caterpillars with normal baculoviruses and with viruses minus their egt gene. Those affected by egt imitated the high altitude death by climbing to the tops of their tall plastic bottles. Those infected with defective viruses stayed in the bottom to die.
The finding is most significant because it demonstrates a genetic mechanism by which “extended phenotype” can be expressed. The term extended phenotype was coined by evolutionist Richard Dawkins. The term refers to the fact that while a gene can only code for production of a protein, the extended phenotype for that gene should rightly include all effects that the gene has on all organisms it affects.
“Interfering with the hormonal system is the most elegant way to influence complex traits such as behaviour,” says Hoover. Leeds Parasitologist Glenn McConkey agrees, “For a parasite gene to affect something as complex as host behaviour, it must be modifying something neural and that means either hormones or neurotransmission.”
David Hughes, who has also worked with zombie ants, says, “To me this moves the concept of the extended phenotype forward in quite a dramatic fashion. This is the first empirical evidence that a gene in the body of one organism can have a direct effect on another organism.”
While Dawkins considered the concept to be his great contribution to evolutionary theory, the concept actually relates to natural selection of organisms. No new kind of organism is coming into existence. Natural selection is optimizing parasitic opportunities by “rewarding” the most effective dispersal strategies.
We can be confident, based on God’s declaration, that the original Creation was very good. In the beginning therefore there were no dissolving caterpillars dripping their disintegrated parts on the forest below. But viruses, acting as vectors to facilitate the exchange of bits of genetic information, would have helped microorganisms adapt to changing conditions and survive to fulfill their complex ecological roles.10
In a world gone wrong after the Fall and the Curse, a combination of mutations, horizontally transferred genes, environmental changes, and host changes have left us with a number of harmful viruses and other microorganisms. But no new kinds of organisms are evolving. The infected caterpillars are still gypsy moth caterpillars and the baculoviruses are still baculoviruses. Natural selection operating on the extended phenotype is nicely demonstrated, but no evolution is happening.
Is it animal, vegetable, mineral, . . .or all-of-the-above?
Inorganic life? Is it possible? Well, that’s what Glasgow University Professor Lee Cronin is trying to create. All life as we know it is based on carbon, an element of remarkable versatility. But could life exist with a different kind of chemistry—a chemistry not based on carbon?
Cronin’s efforts involve getting “polyoxometalates” in solution to self-assemble into spheres he calls iCHELLS. He has been able get them to self-replicate using each other as templates.11 Now he is trying to get them to respond to environmental changes in a true survival-of-the-fittest manner. He says, “I think we have just shown the first droplets that can evolve.”12
Publicity surrounding Professor Cronin’s goals focuses on the evolutionary implications of his research. How do we define life? Frankly, neither creationists nor evolutionists can offer a good definition of life but instead describe its attributes. Professor Cronin says, “What we are trying do is create self-replicating, evolving, inorganic cells that would essentially be alive. You could call it inorganic biology.” These cells would be divided into membrane-bound compartments in order to allow controlled interaction of various chemical reactions within the cell, “just like biological cells.”
Thus we see that the essential attributes Cronin wishes his new life-forms to have are the abilities to reproduce and to evolve. The definition of self-replicating is pretty obvious. But how does Cronin define evolve? Some people insist that every adaptation and variation within a kind of organism is evolution. They usually assert that such observable occurrences demonstrate that an accumulation of mutations will also evolve new kinds of organisms. An additional aspect of unobservable evolution is the molecules-to-man notion that life can spontaneously arise from random interaction of non-living components. Cronin’s remarks suggest he would opt for both latter definitions.
Explaining his underlying purpose, Cronin says, “The grand aim is to construct complex chemical cells with life-like properties that could help us understand how life emerged and also to use this approach to define a new technology based upon evolution in the material world - a kind of inorganic living technology. . . . Bacteria are essentially single-cell micro-organisms made from organic chemicals, so why can't we make micro-organisms from inorganic chemicals and allow them to evolve?”
“If successful,” he adds, “this would give us some incredible insights into evolution and show that it's not just a biological process. It would also mean that we would have proven that non carbon-based life could exist and totally redefine our ideas of design.”
Well, Cronin’s project is already out of the running for a molecules-to-man demonstration since it starts out as intelligent design, at best. “Making” and “constructing” what amounts to tiny self-sustaining, self-replicating multi-chambered floating batteries may “refine our ideas of design,” but it won’t demonstrate anything about “how life emerged” through random undirected molecular interactions.
As to developing “a new technology based upon evolution in the material world,” we fear there wouldn’t be much of a market for its applications, at least not for long. If this new technology were to be a sort of biomimicry based on truly evolutionary principles, then mistakes and defects should never be repaired but rather allowed to keep working until they self-destruct.
Does Cronin expect his inorganic cells to independently acquire the information to become an entirely new kind of cell—and to do so by making a whole bunch of mistakes? In biology those mistakes in replication are called mutations and evolutionary principles dictate that favorable mutations can accumulate until they produce a whole new kind of organism. However, in the world of engineering, defects are considered flaws, not stepping stones to a whole new plane of existence.
When a defect results in a useful discovery, it does so by losing information and failing to function as originally intended. Take for example the famed serendipitous discovery of post-it notes. Not sticking too well has its advantages for certain applications, but not in most settings where adhesion is needed. An engineer would not remain employed if he simply left a machine un-maintained hoping it would eventually accumulate enough mistakes to become a new kind of improved machine.
Tiny machines that can maintain and clone themselves could have intriguing applications, but to suppose this project will give us insight into how life evolved is nonsense.
Lizard’s genomic agility unravels the mystery of modern life.
The green anole lizard has the honor of being the first real reptile13 to have its genome sequenced. Many evolutionists believe that reptiles and mammals diverged from a common ancestor 320 million years ago and that reptiles split into a bird-branch and a lizard-branch 280 million years ago. By comparing the lizard’s genome to chickens and humans, the team publishing in Nature believes it has discovered how far we’ve all flown from that original tree.
Any sort of similarity between the lizard and birds or mammals was interpreted as evidence of common ancestry. So was any difference. By assuming that evolution occurred, the researchers simply decorated the evolutionary tree with their data.
First, the team noted both reptiles and birds have small chromosomes and large chromosomes. Mammals do not. But birds have a lot more of the tiny chromosomes. Therefore, they conclude that the bird-lizard common ancestor had microchromosomes. As evolution progressed, either birds developed more or some lizard microchromosomes fused.
The researchers found that many paired genes showed up in the microchromosomes of both lizard and chicken. Again, evidence for common ancestry. But the banding pattern common to birds and humans did not appear in the lizard, so they said the chemical pattern that produces the banding must have “eroded”14 in the lizard lineage. And in examining the genes coding for egg-related genes, the team determined that placental mammals have lost some egg-related genes, of course assuming that the common ancestor had those genes.
In comparing the 17,472 protein-coding genes of the green anole to the genes of eight other vertebrates (human, mouse, dog, opossum, platypus, chicken, zebra finch, and pufferfish), the team found 3,994 genes “that have not been duplicated or deleted in any of these vertebrates since their last common ancestor.” They then used the differences to construct a phylogenetic tree in order to “illuminate the history” of origins.
Delighted with a discovery related to human origins, researcher Jessica Alföldi noted that “Anoles have a living library of transposable elements,” bits of DNA that don’t code for anything and show up in lots of different locations. About a hundred of these were able to be matched up with counterparts on the human genome. Therefore, she concludes, “In anoles, these transposons are still hopping around, but evolution has used them for its own purposes, turning them into something functional in humans.” Pleased to have learned where humans got these non-coding genetic elements, she explains, “Sometimes you need to be at a certain distance in order to learn about how the human genome evolved.”
This comparative genetic study was certainly exhaustive, but the interpretation of the data in the shadow of the evolutionary tree of life is unjustified and unproven. Knowing that God designed all organisms to live in the same world, we should not be surprised to find that genes coding for the same proteins are needed in many, explaining the similarities across kinds. Each creature created in Creation week was fully equipped with the features it needed and the genes to code for many variations of those features. The fact that some things are similar and others are different does not show that reptiles, mammals, and birds share a common ancestor.
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