“It’s the ‘Lucy’ of snakes,” claims Yale paleontologist.
“It’s the missing-link snake,” according to Yale paleontologist Nicholas Longrich. “It’s the ‘Lucy’ of snakes.” Longrich is lead author of a paper published July 25 in Nature asserting Coniophis precedens, a fossil found in Wyoming a century ago, represents an evolutionary transitional form between snakes and lizards. After examining the jaw, teeth, and vertebrae of the fossil, Longrich and colleagues note there are features of both lizards and snakes present and therefore conclude the creature is an “ancient protosnake” that can unveil the secrets of snake evolution.
Incidentally, the authors do not claim the Coniophis was ancestral to modern snakes but was instead a “living fossil” in its own time. Longrich says, “It’s not the direct ancestor of modern snakes, but it tells us what the ancestor looks like. A lot of evolution happened around it.”
“Snakes are the most diverse group of lizards, but their origins and early evolution remain poorly understood owing to a lack of transitional forms,” the authors write.1 They believe without doubt that snakes (and all other creatures for that matter) evolved from simpler kinds of life. They seek rather to know what features evolved in what order and what creatures were ancestral to what. For instance, evolutionists have long puzzled over whether snakes were descended from marine or terrestrial ancestors. Coniophis was found in rock layers conventionally dated at about 70 million years with many other sorts of creatures such as mammals, dinosaurs, and terrestrial lizards. But because it seems to have “primitive” snake features, has vertebrae shaped like those of extant burrowing snakes, and lacks marine adaptations, the authors believe the case for terrestrial evolution of snakes is proven.
“Coniophis . . . supports the hypothesis that the elongate body and reduced limbs of snakes evolved as burrowing adaptations,”2 the authors write. “Coniophis thus represents a functional chimera, combining a snake-like body with a lizard-like head. The picture that emerges for Coniophis is of a small, fossorial [burrowing] carnivore that preyed upon small vertebrates.”2
So what exactly is “transitional” about this fossil? Why do the authors call it a “chimera”? Longrich explains, “It moves like a snake, but it doesn’t feed like a snake.” This study deals primarily with the skull and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of legs. The shape of the teeth, the way they are implanted into the jaw, and the presence of an “intramandibular joint”2 are features consistent with snake jaws. An intramandibular joint allows the front part of a snake’s lower jawbone to rotate slightly relative to the back part of the jawbone. However, the upper jawbone, in contrast to the usual snake anatomy, seems “firmly united with the skull,” which would have made Coniophis unable to unhinge the mouth to swallow huge prey whole.1
Lizards and snakes have enough similarities to be classified in the same group of reptiles—the squamates. In fact, as the authors themselves indicate, snakes are really a specialized form of lizard. There are also legless varieties of non-snake lizards. Some snakes have some hip- and leg-like bones, though only inside the body. Many experts—even creation scientists—believe it is quite possible snakes once had legs. For instance, Rick Teepen—who presents the “Snakes Alive” presentation at the Creation Museum—explains, “I believe snakes may have had legs thousands of years ago (not millions of years ago),”3 and his conviction rests not just on the fact that some snakes have leg-like bones internally but on God’s Word. Indeed, God’s eyewitness account of His curse upon the serpent after Satan used its body to deceive Eve, recorded in Genesis 3:14, includes some sort of change in serpent characteristics. God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.” This could indicate—if the “Genesis 3 serpent” was a snake—that snakes had legs before that time.
But whatever the original created kinds of snakes and lizards and other reptiles were like, God created them about 6,000 years ago to reproduce after their kinds. They, like all creatures, were able to vary within their created kinds. So even if snakes once did have legs, the loss of the ability to move about on legs would represent a loss of information, not a gain.
The limited information available about Coniophis from examination of a few of its bones—without the rest of the creature to look at—reveals a creature that seems to have some characteristics typical of snakes and some typical of non-snake lizards, but that does not mean lizards and snakes evolved from some sort of non-reptilian lower life-form.
Assuming the interpretation of the “firmly fixed” maxillary bone is correct, it may be that Coniophis was a snake that had lost the genetic ability to open wide. Or it may be that the genetic information in some original created kinds of reptiles contained information for traits we now use to distinguish snakes and lizards. In fact, this creature may simply have possessed a mosaic array of traits suited to its needs in the same way a platypus combines traits we normally associate with ducks, mammals, and snakes.
Such a morphological mosaic, or chimera, is not the same as a transitional form. Describing a mosaic mixture of traits is describing something we can observe. Describing evolutionary transitions, however, is an imaginary exercise based on unverifiable assumptions about the past. We can only speculate, as do the evolutionists, about the specifics of how the genetic information in the past produced the diversity of species we see today. But while evolutionary speculation is guided by the belief that never-observed upward evolutionary transitions happened, the parameters of our speculation are set by the eyewitness account God has provided and the observable facts of biology that confirm it: creatures really do reproduce after their kinds.
This study does not, as one journalist wrote, strengthen “the robustness of the theory of evolution.”4 The fossil does not demonstrate that any sort of creature acquired genetic information to become something else but only that variation within created kinds allowed this apparent mosaic to exist. Such variations can result from original design or the regulation and reshuffling of existing genetic information and its mutations, but they do not involve the acquisition of new information required for upward evolution.
Frankly, the authors plainly admit that snakes are merely a kind of lizard and that this creature appears to be a chimera of the specialized snake and the less specialized lizards. Therefore, far from demonstrating the “robustness of the theory of evolution,” the discovery merely underscores the diversity of lizards. Coniophis’s mosaic of features do not make it “the missing link” and should not prompt anyone to swallow the theory of evolution whole.
The battle of the bottle-brush induces squid to unleash its secret countermeasure.
Squid are known for their ability to cover their escape with a cloud of ink, but the deep-dwelling Octopoteuthis deletron has an extra maneuver up its sleeve. Its bioluminescent arm-tips do more than emit light to lure mates or prey. In a pinch, they detach and provide a twitching luminescent diversion during the squid’s escape. Along with high-tech deep-sea robotics, this discovery required a bit of low-tech equipment: a bottle-brush.
Footage from a robotic submersible had revealed many squid with shortened arms, arms without tips, and arms with regenerating tips.5 Having suspected these squid possessed the defensive ability to sacrifice body parts, researcher Stephanie Bush, in collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), tried a variety of provocations before hitting on the thing the squid saw as a sufficient threat to resort to extreme countermeasures. Attacking the squid with the robotic arm elicited a counterattack but no gripping action or detachables. Poking the squid with a common bottle-brush, however, provided just the break the team needed. Squid would ultimately counterattack, break off an arm-tip or two, and take off in a cloud of ink leaving behind wriggling bio-lit decoys.
Some crabs display similar defensive behavior, reminiscent of lizards that lose their tails. But this frugal sacrificial behavior is apparently unique even among squid species. Bottle-brush battles with seven other species produced no such dis-arming. And while octopuses are known to lose entire arms, these squid minimized their losses by giving up only the tips.
Examination of the abandoned arm-tips demonstrated the muscle tissue was designed for ready detachment at several places. However, the detachment always occurred near a point where the arm grabbed the offending bottle-brush, limiting the amount of tissue sacrificed. Experts agree this squid’s economical countermeasures represent an advantage over full limb loss. Even though the squid loses a light-emitting organ with the arm-tip tissue, it lives to lure something (a mate or perhaps dinner) another day.
The diversity of defense-attack structures we see in the world is a reminder of the effects of sin’s curse. When God pronounced a curse upon the serpent and its progeny in Genesis 3:14, He hinted that other creatures would also suffer from man’s sin. (He said the serpent would be cursed “more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field.”) Romans 8:22 confirms “the whole creation groans.” When God created our “very good” world about 6,000 years ago, the creatures of that world were not troubled by suffering and death.6
After man sinned, animals needed to develop defense-attack structures (DAS) in order to thrive and survive in an increasingly violent world. They did not have to evolve, however. Be sure to read “How Did Defense/Attack Structures Come About?” to get a biblical perspective on the variety of ways such defenses developed.7 Natural selection, acting on the variations that have developed from the plethora of genomic information within each kind of creature, doubtless helped produce the diversity we see today, such as the bottle-brush battling defense mechanism in this squid.
Be sure to watch the fascinating video of the squid’s defense at news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/07/disarming-deep-sea-tactics.html
Gecko feet: Does their fabulous diversity make them the flagship for convergent evolution?
About 60 percent of the world’s 1,450 species of geckos are able to cling to walls as this one does. All geckos have the basic equipment underlying this adaptation, and a recent study has shown several genetic keys to making the climb up the wall possible. But these adaptations do not represent ascent of the evolutionary tree of life, only diversification within the gecko’s genome. Image by Tim Vickers and Bjørn Christian Tørrissen from blogs.discovermagazine.com.
Close-up of flat toe pads on a gecko foot. These along with the all-important spatula-like split ends on hundreds of tiny setae make wall-clinging possible. Image by Tim Vickers and Bjørn Christian Tørrissen from blogs.discovermagazine.com
Geckos, lizards known for their ability to scamper up walls, are able to execute their amazing acrobatic prowess because they have toes covered with remarkably designed hairs (setae) with spatula-shaped split-ends. About 40 percent of the 1,450 species of geckos, however, have non-adhesive feet. (In fact, some have no legs at all, a reminder of the extreme variability that can occur within a kind of creature.) The sticky-ended hairs are specialized forms of spinules, little hair-like growths covering gecko bodies. (Spinules probably help geckos shed their skin.) Thus, all geckos have the necessary “equipment” to build sticky feet, and optimization of tendon function and flattened toes complete their acrobatic adaptations.
Researchers have now determined the genetic information determining feet adhesion is encoded on six genes. After analyzing these genes in 107 of the 118 genera of geckos, they believe the adhesive ability evolved convergently in eleven separate events and was lost at least nine times. (Evolutionists date the rise of of the tackiness of the gecko toe to millions of years ago thanks to a gecko trapped in Cretaceous amber.) Presumably, the clingy toes would be a hindrance to locomotion for geckos living in less vertical terrain—perhaps burrowing in sand—so those geckos without the sticky adaptation would have been naturally selected to survive and reproduce, producing a population preferring to keep its feet on the ground.
The researchers believe their work, by elucidating the optimal gecko grip components, will be helpful for biomimicry projects seeking to mimic gecko feet in man-made materials. However, this research does not demonstrate anything in support of upward evolution but only the fact that reshuffling genetic material within a kind of creature is instrumental in producing species diversity.
The genetic information to produce clingy-footed adaptations does not represent an advance toward a non-gecko but is only a variation within geckos. Such variations, acted on by natural selection and other factors, does result in a diversity of gecko species suited to many environments. But that’s not the same sort of process required for evolution of new kinds of creatures.
Biology confirms what the Bible says: God created each kind of creature to reproduce after its kind. It’s not evolution; it’s just geckos.
Protests over Chick-fil-A president’s non-hateful but biblical stand polarizing the public.
Why would anyone be against a business’s charity foundation donating millions of dollars for college scholarships, foster care, retreat centers, and programs designed to strengthen and save marriages? That’s what Chick-fil-A’s WinShape Foundation8 supports: programs dedicated to “shaping people to be winners.”
Due to these programs, Chick-fil-A has for several months been attracting the attention of activists accusing the company of hating homosexual people. (See News to Note, March 10, 2012.) Those accusations have crescendoed from campus protests to the mayors of major cities in the wake of recent comments Chick-fil-A’s president and CEO Dan Cathy made in support of the biblically traditional family.
Ironically, the remarks that have engendered so much ire include nothing at all about gay people. Dan Cathy, during an interview with Baptist Press of North Carolina, explained his understanding of the way a company can operate on biblical principles:
We don't claim to be a Christian business. There is no such thing as a Christian business. . . . Christ never died for a corporation. He died for you and me. . . . [Christianity] is about a personal relationship. Companies are not lost or saved, but certainly individuals are. . . . But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles. So that is what we claim to be. [We are] based on biblical principles, asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have.9
Voices have not risen to protest Cathy’s remarks about the importance of Christ-like behavior in the workplace or even the company’s policy of closing on Sunday. No, the protests came in response to his support of the traditional family. Cathy said,
We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families.
A number of politicians and protestors have vilified these remarks as “hate-speech” against homosexuals. Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenney, for instance, said, “There is no place for this type of hate in our great City of Brotherly and Sisterly Affection.” Boston’s mayor Thomas Menino declared Chick-fil-A unwelcome in his city, saying Chick-fil-A’s presence would besmirch Boston’s Freedom Trail. And Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared, “Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago's values.” Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno declared his intent to block the restaurant from opening a franchise in his ward.10
In response, a number of Americans have risen up to recall that America was founded by people with a plurality of Judeo-Christian values embracing and defending their common desire to protect their mutual freedoms, including freedom of expression. In fact, the threatened discrimination is unconstitutional.11 August 1, thanks largely to the social media, became “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” as people lined up for chicken, some to show solidarity with Cathy’s stand on biblical principles and some to stand for his right to speak of his beliefs publicly.
The historical foundation of marriage reaches back 6,000 years to the day God created Adam and Eve for each other. Adam freely recognized Eve as his wife in Genesis 2:23, and God declared them to be joined in marriage in Genesis 2:24. Jesus Christ in Matthew 19:4–6 reinforced the truth that marriage was designed by God to be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis responded to the controversy by asking in his blog, “Why are they intolerant of the only true marriage?”12 The answer lies in the war of worldviews. Those protesting Cathy’s right to speak for biblical marriage are not only denying our Creator’s authority but also denying the rights of others to acknowledge the Creator’s authority.
Read more about what the Bible reveals about the dangers to cultures that reject God’s authority in this matter in Ken’s blog.12
Chick-fil-A has a reputation as a family-friendly restaurant that seeks to treat all guests with hospitality. Perhaps the over-blown reactions of public officials who declare such places aren’t welcome in their “friendly” towns will help more people to realize the absurdity of defining tolerance as “acceptance of only those who agree with you.”
Clues in dental calculus “banish many of the preconceptions we had of Neanderthals.”
Did Neanderthals enjoy a balanced diet with a variety of cooked veggies? Did they value medicinal herbs? New evidence from Spain suggests they did.
A little late for a trip to the dental hygienist, several Neanderthals from El Sidrón cave, located in the Asturias region of northern Spain, left clues in their calcified plaque—clues that will give their people’s reputation a facelift. Long thought stubbornly carnivorous and even cannibalistic,13 Neanderthal dietary inflexibility has been blamed for their extinction in the face of competition from more flexibly omnivorous modern humans. Results of the plaque analysis published in Naturwissenschaften have prompted anthropologist Lawrence Straus to comment, “As exceptional places like El Sidrón reveal just how wise and flexible Neanderthals were, more and more we are having to ask ourselves, why did they go extinct?”14
Researchers from Spain, the UK, and Australia, led by Karen Hardy, subjected tooth tartar from five of the thirteen individuals preserved in the cave to both microscopic and chemical analyses. The tartar contained comparatively little in the way of chemical signatures suggestive of meat but instead revealed a variety of botanical products and even bitter herbs. According to coauthor Les Copeland, the findings suggest “these Neanderthals ate starchy foods like tubers, roots, nuts, cereals and grasses.”15
Furthermore, based on the cracking of the starch granules and the presence of chemicals consistent with exposure to cooking fire, the team deduced these people ate their carbs cooked. "We also found chemical evidence consistent with wood-fire smoke and bitumen or oil shale entrapped within the dental calculus,” explains Copeland. “This, along with the fact that we found some of the starch granules were cracked and roasted from our microscopic observations, indicates that the Neanderthals were cooking up their plant foods.”15
The herbs were likely yarrow and chamomile, bitter-tasting substances know to be of medicinal but not nutritional value. While some have suggested the herbs were used for seasoning, Hardy says, “The idea of Neanderthals sitting down for a bowl of salad stretches my imagination and there is no evidence of them having cooking pots, so soups seem unlikely.”16 She adds, “The varied use of plants we identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidrón had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants for their nutritional value and for self-medication. While meat was clearly important, our research points to an even more complex diet than has previously been supposed.”
Antonio Rosas, whose research a few years ago suggested several of these Neanderthals had been cannibalized and skinned,17 was a coauthor of this new research. He says, “El Sidrón has allowed us to banish many of the preconceptions we had of Neanderthals. Thanks to previous studies, we know that they looked after the sick, buried their dead and decorated their bodies. Now another dimension has been added relating to their diet and self-medication.”
The Neanderthal image has improved substantially over the years. Formerly treated by many modern scientists as little better than grunting brutes, Neanderthal reputation has risen as tools, evidence of abstract thinking, and genetic evidence of interbreeding with modern humans have come to light. This new information has promoted them to “wise and flexible.”
The fact is, Neanderthals were as human as the readers of this column. (In fact, they may have even liked bitter herbs on salad!) Whatever their differences from modern humans, archaeological evidence supports the biblical understanding that Neanderthals were descended from Noah’s family. They apparently died off by the end of the Ice Age, for reasons that remain obscure, as did some other people groups. We are certainly not surprised to discover that they were even more “like us” than previously thought.
Evolutionary scientists maintain Neanderthals evolved from ape-like ancestors and finally went extinct 24,000 to 30,000 years ago. However, conclusions about transitional forms between ape-like creatures and humans and pronouncements dating fossils with vast ages are based on unverifiable interpretations of the past, not actual experimental science. (See below for more information.)
God created the first two humans about 6,000 years ago, according to His own eyewitness account. All people, including Neanderthals are descended from them. Read more about where people we call Neanderthals fit into the biblical timeline in the series from the Answers magazine spring 2012 issue.
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