Ancestral tree’s branches proliferate while seeking their roots.
Collodictyon, a protozoan from sludge in a lake near Oslo, is in the headlines because researchers believe it represents a brand new—or rather an extremely ancient—branch on the evolutionary tree of life. They do not believe it fits into any of the existing biological kingdoms.
Collodictyon’s genomic analysis does not match known genomes. Furthermore, Collodictyon itself has intracellular structures resembling those of several different microbial categories. “Collodictyon shares cellular characteristics with Excavata [single-celled parasitic protozoans] and Amoebozoa, such as ventral feeding groove supported by microtubular structures and the ability to form thin and broad pseudopods,”1 the authors write in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi of Oslo’s Microbial Evolution Research Group says, “This further supports the hypothesis that the species from this lake belongs to a primordial group. Perhaps it descended from the antecedents of both the excavates and amoeba?”
”It evolved around one billion years ago,” Shalchian-Tabrizi says. “We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique! So far we know of no other group of organisms that descend from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species. It can be used as a telescope into the primordial micro-cosmos.”
Though genomic matches suggestive of common ancestry are absent, researchers are confident they just mutated away long ago. Shalchian-Tabrizi explains, “It is often the case with such ancient organisms that features they share in common with other known species have been wiped away from the DNA sequence because of long-term mutations.”
Evolutionary scientists believe eukaryotes (organisms with nucleated cells) can be divided into those with two flagella, like algae and excavates, and those with only one, like some amoebae. Humans are classified as descendants of the amoebae because the human sperm has a single flagellum. But the Collodictyon has four flagella, fitting into neither category. That, along with the lack of genomic matches, earns it its own branch on the evolutionary tree of life.
Biological classification schemes are periodically modified to accommodate life forms that don’t fit easily into existing categories. Separate kingdoms for prokaryotes (bacteria and blue-green algae) are based on observable distinctions: those microbes have no nuclei. Protozoans (like the paramecia and amoebae schoolchildren find in pond water) and fungi have also occupied their own kingdoms. These categories reflect observable characteristics. But in recent years, schemes seem to have diversified more rapidly than the organisms they categorize.
Classification schemes are being modified to reflect genomic analyses. Why? Not to provide a descriptive system grouping similar things but to build a system in which unobservable evolutionary inferences about ancestry are reflected in the branches. In other words, organisms in the same branch should share the same ancestor.
Shalchian-Tabrizi, explaining “how the tree of life can provide fundamental answers to great evolutionary mysteries,” says, “In order to understand what a species is today, we have to understand how they have changed genetically. The tree of life allows us to explain cellular change processes by connecting the genome and morphology (appearance) with its way of life.”
The evolutionary tree of life is being redrawn based on evolutionary assumptions. Shalchian-Tabriz says the evolutionary tree of life—to which his research has just added another branch—can answer evolutionary questions. Yet those very evolutionary “answers” are the assumptions on which the tree of life is constructed in the first place. This reasoning is circular and therefore invalid.
The researchers also place this protozoan in its own kingdom category on the basis of its unusual genome. Since it lacks genomic information matching even parts of its supposed descendants, the absence is considered a consequence of DNA changing over time. Thus, if some matches were present they would ”prove” Collodictyon’s ancestral place, but since they’re not there the researchers assume the matches used to be there but went away. This seems to be an example of choosing a conclusion and insisting the evidence supports it.
This study bases its conclusions on evolutionary assumptions. Discovery of greater biodiversity—such as a protozoan that moves with four flagellae, eats through a groove like a paramecium, and forms pseudopods like amoebae—is a fascinating mosaic of observable characteristics. But the presence of different sorts of microbial features does not show Collodictyon has an evolutionary relationship to multicellular organisms. This study increases our knowledge of microbial diversity but does not lend support for molecules-to-man evolution.
Does a designer DNA duplicate or a lucky genetic goof make the human brain do what it does do so well?
Two studies just published in Cell reveal the way a uniquely human genetic nuance probably helps the human brain develop the efficient interconnections needed to support its complex functions. The studies propose an evolutionary history of that gene, which is a modified duplicate of a neighboring gene. They believe the gene is a randomly mutated, truncated duplicate that transformed our ape-like ancestor’s brain into human form.
Franck Polleux and Evan Eichler led two research teams examining a human gene called SRGAP2. They say the gene has “been duplicated twice during the course of human evolution, first about 3.5 million years ago and then again about 2.5 million years ago.” Happily for the evolutionary model, the latter just happens to be about time evolutionists believe human ancestors diverged from Australopithecine ancestors.
The duplicate gene actually has some differences and is also incomplete. That incomplete copy inhibits expression of it counterpart. The researchers believe the incomplete version evolved from the full version and was helpful in hominid brain evolution. In mice, SRGAP2 accelerates the migration of neurons during brain development. Inhibition of the gene causes mouse neurons to grow knobby extensions and interconnect more freely. Polleux and Eichler believe these spiky knobs help neurons to interconnect more efficiently.
The researchers suggest this and similar “human-specific gene duplicates” helped ape-like ancestors leap to more efficient brain function and scamper up the evolutionary intellectual tree, leaving their cousins in the dust.
”We may have been looking at the wrong types of mutations to explain human and great ape differences,” Eichler explains. “These episodic and large duplication events could have allowed for radical—potentially earth-shattering—changes in brain development and brain function.”
Gene duplication can occur, but the presence of genes in duplicate or variant form does not prove they resulted from random mutation. The similarity of molecular structure in such a partial duplicate would make it ideally suited for its regulatory role by making it recognizable by the loci affected by the primary form of the gene. Nothing about the existence of such an important duplicate demonstrates its evolutionary or random origin in deep time.
Furthermore, the time when the duplications are supposed to have occurred derive from molecular clock estimates. Molecular clock estimates are based on the unverifiable constancy of mutation rates and some statistical fallacies by which molecular clocks are calibrated. And the supposed fossil proof of Homo evolution from ape-like ancestors is dated in accord with the same assumptions used to calibrate molecular clocks. Since these hypothetical evolutionary events are dated according to the same assumptions and are mutually dependent, their agreement is an expected result of circular reasoning. The agreement of the dates therefore gives only the illusion of reliability and confirmation.
Many people don’t realize how much bias is built into these numbers. Molecular geneticist and creationist Dr. Georgia Purdom says, “People need to understand that many assumptions by the scientists, like human evolution from an ape-like ancestor, have a direct effect on how the scientists compare the genomes. They compare them in a way that will achieve the conclusion they have already determined is true—that humans and apes share common ancestry. It's truly a case of circular reasoning!”
If the animal model here is accurately demonstrating the function of the partial gene duplicate, this discovery could be genuinely useful in understanding neurological abnormalities characterized by “bad connections” between neurons. Such conditions include autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia. But the role of this gene in human brain development has nothing to do with presumptive evolutionary history. The neuronal connections and the genetic functions exist in the present and do not demonstrate anything about their own history through deep time. Our only reliable information about human origins is the eyewitness account in Genesis telling us He created Adam and Eve in his own image distinct from the animals by His own perfect design.
“Precious particles” popping in again?
SETI may be perpetually frustrated in its search for extraterrestrial intelligence, but at least it got to celebrate Earth Day by mounting a Search for Extra-Terrestrial rocks. On April 22, sonic booms announced the arrival of a minivan-sized meteorite into earth’s atmosphere practically in the SETI backyard, breaking up with high heat and dropping its remains over the Sierra Nevada mountains near Sacramento, California.
Led by SETI astronomer Peter Jenniskens, scientists from NASA and SETI rapidly mounted a search effort to recover chunks. The small ones found so far at Henningsen-Lotus State Park near Sutter’s Mill reveal the meteorite to be the rare CM carbonaceous type. Dubbing the carbon-containing chondrite the “Sutters Mill Meteorite,” they hope to find large pieces in which they can search for alien organic compounds.
Sutters Mill is aptly named as it represents a potentially rich resource for scientists. This is the same kind of meteorite as the famous Murcheson meteorite that fell over Australia in 1969. Murcheson proved organic compounds could come from space to earth. The organics existed in both mirror image forms—typical of non-biologic origin—and showed a predominance of carbon isotopes inconsistent with terrestrial origin. Evolutionary scientists consider carbonaceous chondrites a source of organic compounds that seeded the early earth, providing raw material to get the chemical origins of life underway.
“This is the meteorite you want to find!” exclaimed Jenniskens. “This particular type of meteorite—that forms only 1.5 percent of all falls—is really interesting for research at the SETI Institute and NASA. The material carried in this type of meteorite is what made life possible on Earth. The carbon atoms that your body is made out of, and all life on Earth is made out of, arrived on our planet shortly after its formation via meteorite impacts and comet impacts.”
Scientists are eager to find larger pieces before the compounds inside have time to react with earth’s environment. Because a fragment of even one kilogram speeding to earth with “residual cosmic speed” would leave a crater, they chartered a zeppelin hoping to spot fragments from the air. The trajectories of incoming fragments are random, making their landing sites unpredictable. So far no pieces larger than 19 grams (0.7 ounce) have been recovered.
Sutters Mill Meteorite fragments represent another kind of riches. “The meteorites are invaluable to science but on the open market can also fetch $1,000 a gram, or more for larger, pristine pieces.”2 Some lucky locals have already cashed in and others are pondering their plans.
So what do scientists hope to learn from the meteorite? By gathering information about organic chemicals some think seeded earth, they hope to gain insight into the chemical origins of life on earth and possibly in outer space. For example, we recently discussed one scientist’s ideas about the implications of a slight imbalance in the chirality of the Murcheson organics (see News to Note, April 21, 2012). And nucleobases—vital parts of DNA and RNA—as well as amino acids and other alien organics have definitely been found in meteorites. Yet even if alien organic compounds had been dropped on the earth, nothing in nature has shown how living organisms could randomly emerge from non-living chemicals. The origin of life took place in the unobservable past and cannot be subjected to objective scientific testing.
God tells us in the Bible He formed the earth, the plants and animals, and the rest of the universe from nothing. Then He made Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from part of Adam. God required no alien organics to help Him get started with His Creation. Neither did He require vast amounts of alien raw material.
“Come now, and let us reason together” says the Lord. . . .
That message from the Creator God urging people to acknowledge their rebellion against Him rings as true today as when He delivered it through the prophet Isaiah around 2,700 years ago. And with that call to reason came a message of hope through Jesus Christ, whose coming and crucifixion Isaiah was also privileged to prophesy. The verse continues, “. . . Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
From God’s point of view, it is reasonable for human beings to recognize their limitations and their sin. It is reasonable for humans to accept God’s grace and be reconciled with Him. God made humans in His image, and they are therefore able to reason. But ever since Adam reasoned that he could challenge His Creator and build a better world his own way, human reasoning has been severely corrupted and has continued along the same rebellious line.
The National Day of Reason (NDR), proclaimed by the American Humanist Association in protest of the National Day of Prayer, thus provides a picture of 6,000 years of human history. “Our day puts the focus back on people and what we can do for ourselves,” said spokesman Paul Fidalgo. “We are trying to make a better world on our own by emphasizing good works and good deeds on the day” (emphasis ours).
Those good works included blood drives, training sessions on how to lobby politicians, voter registration drives, and the “opportunity” to trade Bibles for copies of Darwin’s Origin of Species. We would note, however, the curious standards by which these “reasoning” skeptics determine what is “good.” In this case, “good works” included blood donation, which, while generous, philanthropic, and generally good for other people, is counterproductive to ultimate human evolution. After all, blood might be used to promote survival and subsequent procreation by “weaker” members of the human race. Lobbyist training and voter registration drives, while possibly open to all comers, would surely more freely benefit those of like-mind. Therefore, those “good works” are self-serving. And swapping out Bibles for Darwinian writ likewise promotes only the humanistic point of view.
Indeed, without a standard for “good” from beyond man, each person decides for himself what is “good.” God’s Word, however, says that even “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15). God, as Creator of all, is the one with the authority to determine what is truly good. Furthermore, even the human ability to reason is a gift from our Creator, not an evolved attribute. And so is the freedom to use that reason to rebel against the God who created us.
The rich tradition of the National Day of Prayer echoes the call by Benjamin Franklin during the constitutional convention to pray for God’s help and a prior call by the 1775 Continental Congress asking people to pray for them to have God’s wisdom as they shaped this nation. The National Day of Prayer officially originated in 1952 when democratically elected officials chosen by the American people, led by President Harry S. Truman, declared it would be held annually. More elected officials later passed legislation ratifying that decision by designating the first Thursday of May to be the National Day of Prayer.3 President Obama issued his proclamation for May 3, saying,
On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience.
The National Day of Prayer, though briefly de-railed in 2010 when a judge declared it to be a violation of separation of church and state, was restored in 2011 when that ruling was overturned by a judiciary rightly recognizing that nothing about the law concerning the day compels anyone to participate and thus does not violate anybody’s First Amendment rights.
As part of the National Day of Prayer observance, Americans are encouraged by private groups such as the National Day of Prayer Task Force to pray for our government leaders. Scripture directs Christians to pray for “all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2). As 40,000 groups gathered around the country to pray, many prayed for our leaders to have wisdom. Since the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10 ), it is appropriate that mega-church pastor Harry Jackson, during a gathering at Capitol Hill, after critiquing the present administration’s failure to defend existing federal laws restricting same-sex marriage, urged people to pray for the president to have “clarity of mission.” In light of the president’s three previous official proclamations for June 2009, 4 2010,5 and 20116 to be Gay Pride month and this week’s statement endorsing same-sex marriage,7 those prayers are even more urgently needed.
Historically, our Founding Fathers, operating on Christian principles and led by Christians such as James Madison, put in place a written guarantee that all Americans would have the freedom to choose how and whether to worship without compulsion by the federal government. So perhaps if those who choose not to gather in prayer don’t want to thank God for their freedom, they should at least consider being thankful for the Christian principles used by the Founding Father to support freedom of conscience that guarantee citizens’ rights to protest and reason as they choose.
Were dinosaurs an endangered species before the K-T disaster? Enquiring minds want to know.
“The extinction of . . . dinosaurs . . . is a perpetual topic of fascination, and lasting debate has focused on whether dinosaur biodiversity was in decline before end-Cretaceous volcanism and bolide [large exploding meteor] impact,” write the authors of a statistical survey of dinosaur diversity published in Nature Communications.8 Evolutionists debate the significance of the study.
Although the authors do not deny the popular evolutionary belief that a meteor caused dinosaur extinction, they suggest that certain types of large plant-eating dinosaurs in North America may have already been on their way out.
”Did sudden volcanic eruptions or an asteroid impact strike down dinosaurs during their prime?” lead author Stephen Brusatte asks. “We found that it was probably much more complex than that, and maybe not the sudden catastrophe that is often portrayed.” He explains, “We know a large asteroid or comet hit the planet about 65.5 million years ago, right when the dinosaurs completely disappeared from the fossil record. . . . We now also know that at least some groups of dinosaurs were undergoing long-term declines in biodiversity during the final 12 million years of the Cretaceous, at least in North America.”
The authors explain that a creature’s biodiversity indicates its evolutionary well-being. In other words, a highly diverse kind of creature is conducting successful evolutionary experiments, filling many ecological niches, and preparing to evolve into other kinds of creatures. Less diverse kinds, on the other hand, were losing their grip on the tree of life, soon to fade from significance on the evolutionary scene.
But how is diversity measured? Usually dinosaur diversity is assessed by counting the number of species, but “results can be biased by uneven sampling of the fossil record,” Brusatte says. “We wanted to go beyond a simple species count.” Therefore, this statistical analysis evaluated diversity not by counting the number of species but by quantifying anatomical variations within each.
They found triceratops and duck-billed9 dinosaur fossils from North America’s upper Cretaceous rocks were more anatomically uniform than similar dinosaurs in Asia. “Something was going on with large herbivores in the late Cretaceous, at least in North America. Maybe it was the fact that the local environments were in flux,” Brusatte says. The rest of the world’s dinosaurs displayed plenty of anatomic diversity, so Brusatte suggests these big North American herbivores were the first victims of a more general decline. He says, “Maybe, given a few more million years we would have seen declines in other dinosaur groups higher up in the food chain.”
”Dinosaurs were hugely diverse,” co-author Richard Butler adds. “Different groups were probably evolving in different ways and the results of our study show that very clearly.”
Other evolutionists question both the significance and interpretation of this analysis. Paleobiologist Paul Upchurch of University College London points out a more extensive survey may demonstrate many similar declines during dinosaur history. He says, “The decline in disparity during the final 12 million years might merely be ‘evolutionary business as usual’ and have little to do with the true final extinction.” Furthermore, “Only some dinosaur groups show reduced disparity . . . while other groups continue to do well. So this study could actually be taken as evidence in favor of a sudden extinction.”
Diminished diversity “does not automatically mean that dinosaurs were doomed to extinction,” co-author Mark Norell admits. "Dinosaur diversity fluctuated throughout the Mesozoic, and small increases or decreases between two or three time intervals may not be noteworthy within the context of the entire 150-million-year history of the group.”
For those who interpret the fossil record in the context of biblical history, unverifiable evolutionary assumptions should be apparent on both sides of this argument. Biodiversity within a species (which is observed) does not show new kinds of animals can evolve from other kinds (an unobserved phenomenon). Furthermore, while variations within created kinds occur and may relate to the adaptive ability to fill various ecological niches, less biodiversity does not necessarily mean a pre-Flood group of creatures was an endangered species. Perhaps they just lived in a habitat that did not demand a lot of adaptation. Nothing in this study demonstrates anything in support of the unbiblical notion of the evolutionary rise of new kinds of animals.
Finally, while dinosaurs are now apparently extinct,10 their extinction is not recorded in the fossil record; what is recorded are the deaths of many dinosaurs. The global Flood caused massive death among all kinds of creatures, and many were buried and preserved in the fossil record. But representative dinosaurs, like all kinds of land animals and birds (Genesis 6:19–20 ), were present aboard the massiveNoah’s Ark. They, like many other animals, later became extinct, often because of harmful human activity.
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