Canadian amber preserves some itsy-bitsy fuzzy fossils.
Both dinosaur and bird feathers revealing the stages of feather evolution have been found in Canadian amber, according to a report published in Science. The amber tid-bits, most less than a centimeter across, are leftovers from the “Late Cretaceous” Grassy Lake coal bed in Alberta, Canada. Paleontology graduate student1 Ryan McKellar surveyed 4000 pieces of amber and found eleven with feathery, hairy, or fuzzy inclusions.
Many evolutionists are convinced that dinosaurs evolved into birds2 and that some dinosaurs had feathers. Chinese fossils purported to be feathered dinosaurs have included the Sinosauropteryx3 with some flattened fuzz deemed by some experts to be mere collagen fibrils, the Sinornithosaurus4 with similar filaments in tufts but no secondary branching or hooks, and the Anchiornis5 with mature bird feathers similar to those on another famous bird, the Archaeopteryx. Yet between the so-called “protofeathers” on actual dinosaur fossils and the mature feathers seen on Anchiornis and other fossilized birds, evolutionists have been unable to document any evolutionary progression.
Since several sorts of fuzzy morphology appeared in the amber and the amber all came from a Late Cretaceous coal bed dated by evolutionists at about 70 Ma6—McKellar asserts that “numerous evolutionary stages were present”7 at the same time. He writes, “These fossils have disparate morphologies that span four evolutionary stages.”7 These stages are described by the “currently accepted evolutionary-developmental model for feathers.”7
“We've got feathers that look to be little filamentous hair-like feathers, we've got the same filaments bound together in clumps, and then we've got a series that are for all intents and purposes identical to modern feathers,” McKellar said. “We're catching some that look to be dinosaur feathers and another set that are pretty much dead ringers for modern birds.”8
The specimens resembling “stage I” and “stage II” of the hypothetical evolutionary model are simply filaments without any of the defining features of feathers. The filaments do not appear to be of plant, fungal, or mammalian origin as they have neither cell walls nor the small scales typical of mammal hair. McKellar explains, “We don't absolutely know what they are, but we're pretty sure what they're not.”9
The hollow, regularly spaced “stage I” filaments are reminiscent of the ”protofeathers” on Sinosauropteryx, although the amber specimens are significantly finer in caliber.7 The “stage II” filaments seem to be clustered in tufts but have no rachis or hooklets as feathers do. They most closely resemble the “protofeathers” associated with Sinornithosaurus, although the amber specimens lack the apparent organizational bundling observed on the Sinornithosaurus.7
The other “evolutionary” feather stages represented in the amber are parts of mature feathers commonly seen in modern flying birds and in modern diving birds. The latter have well-preserved whorls at the barbule bases, a feature which soaks up water to improve hydrodynamic efficiency. The modern-appearing flight feather parts include the same parts seen in feathers today—rachis, differentiated barbules on thick rami, interlocking barbules. Pigmentation of the modern-appearing feathers is also consistent with what we see today—“everything from white downy feathers to other birdlike feathers with grey or brown colours as well.”10
Significantly, despite the alleged resemblance to “protofeathers,” none of the amber specimens contain any other portions of their original owners. Therefore it is impossible to be sure what animals any specimens belonged to. The article in Science states, “Neither avian nor dinosaurian skeletal material has been found in direct association with amber at the Grassy Lake locality. . . . There is currently no way to refer the feathers in amber with certainty to either birds or the rare small theropods from the area.”7 Yale evolutionary ornithologist Richard Prum notes, “The lack of any other remains in the amber—a distinctive bit of bone, say, or a shred of skin—leaves open the possibility that the structures aren't associated with dinosaurs at all.”9
The presently popular though far from unanimous view among evolutionists today is well-expressed by paleontologist Mark Norell, who wrote a Science commentary on McKellar’s research. He says, “We've known for quite a while that several of the non-bird dinosaurs actually had feathers and many of them had feathers that are identical to the feathers you see on a pigeon in the park today.”8 Of course, finding those mature feathers on dinosaurs requires redefining obvious birds as dinosaurs. If the discoverer of these bits of amber did not have implicit faith in the evolutionary worldview and the evolutionary model of feather evolution, he may have been less ready to match his simpler filaments to the evolutionary model and the nearest possible “protofeathers.”
Despite the ambitious title of McKellar’s article, ”A Diverse Assemblage of Late Cretaceous Dinosaur and Bird Feathers from Canadian Amber,” there is actually no evidence linking these pieces of amber with dinosaurs. Multiple modern bird feather designs were present—some even entangled with spider web10—but no dino-presence was detectable. The researcher needed to see evolving feathers, so he chose the nearest available dino-fuzz—a fossilized impression not universally accepted as feathers even among expert evolutionary ornithologists and paleontologists. Perhaps the filaments are similar to filoplumes, tiny filamentous feathers which probably function as mechanoreceptors in modern birds, or perhaps as Richard Prum suggests, “They could be something completely new that hasn't been preserved elsewhere in the fossil record.”9 But to assert that dinosaur feathers have been found in amber is a headliner without substance.
Evolutionists since Darwin have desperately needed evidence that feathers evolved from something. Darwin himself commented, “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!”6 Norell explains that Darwin’s dilemma stemmed from the fact that the “earliest and most primitive feathers found in association with Archaeopteryx were already of modern aspect.”6 He believes McKellar’s amber inclusions have put that dilemma to rest by proving that “primitive and advanced feather morphologies” could coexist.6 But without proof that these simpler structures are genuine feather parts and that they belonged to dinosaurs, McKellar’s amber has proven no such thing.
Creationist researchers can confidently declare that since the Bible in Genesis 1 teaches that birds were created before land animals like dinosaurs, the evolutionary story of birds appearing after the dinosaurs is wrong. The fossil record, when properly interpreted, confirms the Genesis account.
Super-colliders looking for dark matter may be on a wild goose chase.
Current big bang cosmology may be in for an overhaul, of sorts, suggests cosmologist Carlos Frenk. Speaking at the British Science Festival, Frenk revealed that the Virgo Consortium’s computer simulations of the formation of dwarf galaxies don’t match up with observable facts. Dwarf galaxies are dim galaxies arranged in a spheroidal halo around the Milky Way.
Big bang cosmologists believe that the universe is made of only about 4% ordinary matter and 21% dark matter, with the remainder being dark energy. This hypothetical dark matter and dark energy are necessary to explain observations about the gravity that holds the universe together and the expansion of the universe, as well as the distribution of galaxies in the wake of the supposed big bang. Dwarf galaxies are supposedly composed of mostly dark matter.
When Frenk’s group simulated the formation of dwarf galaxies within the big bang model, they found that a large number of small dwarf galaxies should exist. However, observations show that in reality only a few larger dwarf galaxies exist. Frenk speculates that supernovae in the early universe may have played a role in reshaping the distribution of the dwarf galaxies, which might explain the discrepancy. But it is difficult to imagine how supernovae could so drastically affect something as weakly interactive as dark matter. Alternatively, the standard big bang cosmological model needs an adjustment. And if that adjustment gets made, the Large Hadron Collider11 and other facilities trying to find the dark matter particles like those supposedly produced within the first millionth of a second after the big bang are wasting their time.
Frenk says the problem is cold dark matter (CDM). Lower energy, slow moving CDM was supposedly produced in the first millionth of a second after the big bang. The assumption that the dark matter holding the universe together is CDM produces the wrong result in Frenk’s simulation. Lighter faster warm dark matter (WDM) could have presumably only been produced a few seconds after the big bang. If WDM instead of CDM is used in Frenk’s simulation, then his simulated distribution of dwarf galaxies is much closer to reality. Frenk says the WDM solution to the problem is “remarkably elegant” and that “the standard model is by no means dead.” Of course, neither CDM nor WDM has ever been directly observed.
The James Webb Space Telescope, a 2018 mission to look at “the earliest stars,” could “prove” which idea is correct if it peers back into deepest time and is unable to detect evidence of cold dark matter, leaving WDM as the default glue holding the universe together. Of course, if such missions are not really looking back in time but only far out in space—as we maintain—then all they’re doing is showing us what things look like, not how or when they formed.
In fact, the Hadron Collider—even if it does simulate conditions some cosmologists believe existed at the time of the big bang and even if it were to find elementary particles like those supposedly produced by the big bang—would not be proving that the big bang happened. The ability to simulate an occurrence in a laboratory does not prove it did—or could—occur spontaneously in nature.
Likewise, the discovery of dark matter particles (of any kind) might tell us something about the present nature of the universe, but it would not prove the big bang actually happened. Neither does the fact that WDM makes Frenk’s computer simulation come up with the sort of dwarf galaxies. The ability to simulate an occurrence on a computer also does not prove it did—or could—occur spontaneously in nature. It is also worth noting that Frenk’s simulations are all based on the unwarranted assumption that galaxy distributions are the result of natural forces (particularly gravity) acting over billions of years.
The big bang idea is an attempt to explain the origin of the universe in a naturalistic fashion—without invoking God. Sadly, many Christians compromise by trying to add the billions of years from the big bang to the Bible.
From the Bible, we can already know the big bang idea is wrong. The Word of God in Genesis 1 says the earth was created before the stars; the big bang view is the very opposite. In addition, the Bible teaches the earth was created as a paradise; the big bang model teaches it was first a hot, molten blob. The big bang and the Bible are entirely incompatible.
Rearranged evolutionary tree puts the brains on the bottom.
The Mollusca phylum has been giving evolutionists a headache for years because it contains such diverse members. “Evolutionary relationships among the eight major lineages of Mollusca have remained unresolved”12 despite traditional genetic sequencing and morphological comparisons. An analysis of genome sequences recently published in Nature suggests redrawing the evolutionary history of mollusks. To do so, however, requires the “fall back and punt” maneuver of appealing to parallel evolution to explain the brains.
“A primary goal of resolving molluscan phylogeny is to improve our understanding of their early evolutionary history,” write Kevin Kocot and colleagues. “Perhaps more than any other animal group, understanding of molluscan early evolution has been constrained by the notion of a generalized bauplan [body plan] or ‘archetype’ which is still propagated in some invertebrate zoology textbooks.”12 Because mollusks include creatures as variable as snails, squid, and clams, evolutionists have not been able to come up with an “ancestral state reconstruction” that could morph into such disparate forms.
Genetic analysis should have freed evolutionists from such reliance on things visible, but up to now it has not. By performing a more extensive genetic analysis of protein-coding genes and making the usual evolutionary assumption that more similarities imply closer evolutionary relationships, the researchers have proposed a new phylogenetic tree.
Traditionally, snails and slugs (gastropods)—because they have clusters of nerve cells which are fused in some species—are believed to be evolutionary ancestors of cephalopods. (Octopus, squid, and cuttlefish are cephalopods.) Cephalopods have highly developed central nervous systems and amaze us with their navigational abilities and adeptness at solving complex problems.
On Kocot’s new tree, “gastropods are sister to bivalves (not cephalopods).”12 Bivalves, such as clams and scallops, have extremely simple nervous systems lacking any rudiments which could be imagined to precede real brains. Furthermore, molecular clock-type calculations indicate cephalopods actually evolved before snails, slugs, or clams. Thus, the researchers suggest that the brainier members of the mollusk phylum evolved their complex brains independently at different times.
“Traditionally, most neuroscientists and biologists think complex structures usually evolve only once,” says co-author Leonid Moroz. “We found that the evolution of the complex brain does not happen in a linear progression. Parallel evolution can achieve similar levels of complexity in different groups. I calculated it happened at least four times.” Moroz calculates that the octopus, a freshwater snail (Helisoma), and two kinds of sea slugs evolved complex central nervous systems without any ancestral help from each other.
Within the evolutionary worldview, there is a built-in safety valve for situations in which evolutionary ancestry becomes too implausible even for evolutionists. That fall-back position is parallel or convergent evolution—the notion that the same thing evolved multiple times in different lineages. Paul Katz, a neurobiologist, commenting on this research, said, “This is more evidence that you can get complexity emerging multiple times.”
Yet the relatedness of the organisms here is based on the number of proteins they share. As these researchers assert, “These [protein-coding] genes are usually informative for inferring higher-level phylogeny because of their conserved nature due to their functional importance.”12 Their assertion is based on an interpretation of the genetic “facts” in accordance with their faith that evolution must have happened. An alternate faith holds that a common Designer—the God of the Bible—created each kind of creature independently and naturally used some of those “functionally important” proteins in more than one place. Because of a faith-based commitment to their worldview, evolutionists are willing to accept the fantastic implausibility of “complexity emerging multiple times” than consider letting “a Divine Foot in the door.”13 We each choose our faith and interpret the facts accordingly. Similar genes do not prove ancestral evolutionary progression, but they are completely consistent with the work of our common Designer, Christ, by whom “all things were created” (Colossians 1:16).
Epigenetic mutations can produce rapid variation and defy Mendelian genetics.
Every student learns about Mendelian genetics with autosomal and recessive inheritance. But sometimes what’s in the genes remains hidden. The Salk Institute’s Joseph Ecker notes that since some “patterns of variation and inheritance [do not] match what the genetic sequence says should happen, there is a clearly a component of the 'genetic' heritability that is missing.” This “missing” component is called epigenetic because it goes above and beyond what is coded in the actual genes. Ecker’s team has demonstrated a way such variation can happen and even be passed on quite rapidly.
“Our study shows that it's not all in the genes,” said Ecker. “We found that these plants have an epigenetic code that's more flexible and influential than we imagined. There is clearly a component of heritability that we don't fully understand. It's possible that we humans have a similarly active epigenetic mechanism that controls our biological characteristics and gets passed down to our children.”
Ecker’s team studied methylation, one of the biochemical changes that can happen to the nucleotides that make up DNA. A small carbon-containing functional group can be chemically attached to various spots on the DNA without changing the identity of the genes themselves. Methylation can activate or disable a gene without destroying it.
To be sure all the changes they tracked were due to epigenetic mutations and not ordinary genetic differences, the researchers had to be sure all their subjects were genetically identical. They needed a cooperative clone-able test subject. Hence, they used the proverbial lab rat of botany, the Arabidopsis thaliana plant. All their plants were cloned from a single ancestor.
“You couldn't do this kind of study in humans, because our DNA gets shuffled each generation,” Ecker explained. “Unlike people, some plants are easily cloned, so we can see the epigenetic signature without all the genetic noise.”
The team tracked the changes in methylation as well as the phenotypic results for thirty generations. Of the six million potential sites for methylation in Arabidopsis DNA, a few thousand were altered in each generation. These epigenetic changes occurred five orders of magnitude faster than the ordinary genetic mutation rate. Furthermore, many of these epigenetic changes resulted in changes in gene expression. And those epigenetic changes could be passed on to subsequent generations.
“This means that genes are not destiny,” Ecker said. “If we are anything like these plants, our epigenome may also undergo relatively rapid spontaneous change that could have a powerful influence on our biological traits.”
The next step, of course, is to determine more about how these epigenetic changes actually occur—whether randomly or in response to some environmental conditions. Researchers suspect that epigenetic changes could provide a way to switch a gene on and off as needed to cope with changing environments. Also, it remains to be seen whether similar alterations in genetic expression occur in animals and humans. This mechanism may or may not turn out to be a way our own phenotypic variations occur.
This research, of course, involves no evolution into any sort of new plant. And nothing in the published report makes any claim that this is a mechanism for evolution to occur. Rather, this is a mechanism by which genetic diversity can occur in the absence of mutation and without loss of any genetic information. We can well imagine that Ecker’s team has uncovered one of the ways God designed for the living things He created to diversify as they filled the earth and responded to changing conditions over the years.
If you swim with African crocodiles, better check their I.D. first.
The ancient historian Herodotus, visiting Egypt in the fifth century B.C., wrote about relatively tame crocodiles bred for temple worship. Crocodiles living in the Nile today, however, are far from tame. Some recent genetic detective work, however, has tracked down the more mild-mannered version of this “living fossil” and connected it with the mummies.
Actually, in the 1970s, the crocodile leather industry was looking for a variety with fewer bony scutes. A researcher by the name of Fuchs suggested these crocodiles, but he was not taken seriously. (Since then, his publication “Die Krokodilhaut” is commonly referenced in works concerning crocodiles.) But much earlier, in 1807, the French naturalist Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire described the smaller tamer crocodile and acknowledged its historical significance, saying, “This sacred crocodile is called C. suchus.”
Crocodile geneticist Ekon Hekkala got a tissue sample for genetic sequencing from a rather odd source: an associate touring near a crocodile-infested oasis in Chad was invited by his guide to take a dip. The crocodiles didn’t mind at all. The tissue sample thus obtained—from a crocodile which had been killed by a rock without any help from the researchers—didn’t match the Nile croc specimens Hekkala was examining. 123 living crocodile and 57 mummified crocodile specimens later, Hekkala has determined that the tamer crocodiles are a separate species. (Actually, the samples from some mummified crocodiles didn’t work out very successfully, but the ones looted by Napoleon and stored in Paris did yield usable specimens for DNA analysis.)
“Crocodiles are generally very hard to tell apart from their exterior features,” Hekkala says. But despite the minimal visible differences between crocodile species—some differences in the skulls and in scale patterns—she says the genetic differences are substantial. In fact, the large aggressive C. niloticus is genetically quite similar to the Caribbean species but not at all similar to C. suchus.
Although docile crocodiles contentedly swimming with natives in Mauritanian caves14 have turned out to be C. suchus also, C. suchus may qualify for the ranks of endangered species. It is already extinct near the Nile, and there is evidence its population and habitats in western Africa are shrinking.
Hekkala points out that the crocodile is not really an unchanged “living fossil” as she can show it has speciated significantly. Yet speciation does not revoke “living fossil” status. After all, as she pointed out herself, externally, crocodiles are pretty much alike. They’re also pretty much like many crocodile fossils. A “living fossil” is just a living organism that resembles the fossilized ones, although the ones we get most excited about are the ones thought to be extinct.
We can only guess about the features of the original created crocodile kind (or kinds). The news has recently shown us a live captured 21-foot, 2370-pound crocodile whose future is secure as mascot of a new ecotourism park in the southern Philippines.15 We’ve also seen a recent report of a fossilized 20-foot crocodile with a 42-foot fossilized snake in a Palaeocene layer in a Colombian mine.16
Like saltwater crocodiles, the true Nile crocodile is certainly not one to make friends. But the C. suchus’s milder disposition should be a reminder to us that the world God created was free of the violence and aggression we see in the animal kingdom today. Indeed, all of creation has been groaning (Romans 8:20–22) since Adam brought sin into the world. The death and violence we see in the world are not the natural normal created state of things; they are intruders. And we can be thankful that thanks to Christ’s sacrifice, not only can we as Christians look forward to eternal salvation for our souls, but also an ultimate end to the death and suffering we see in the world today.
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