Melodious mice may hold clues to unravel human language disorders.
Alston’s singing mice—mice that use monotonal song to communicate over large distances in the wilds of Costa Rica—are research subjects in the University of Texas at Austin laboratory of Dr. Steven Phelps. His latest research with these exotic rodents concerns the genetic regulation underlying Scotinomys teguina’s ability to chirp up to 20 times per second. His team believes the genetic regulator for this mouse’s behavior may provide clues to genetic factors involved in autism and other human language disorders.
The regulatory gene Phelps studies is called FOXP2. Like many genes, this one has homologous versions present in various animals and people. “FOXP2 is famous because it's the only gene that's been implicated in human speech disorders specifically,” says Phelps. Mutation of even one allele of this regulatory gene has been associated with a variety of human language problems—difficulty grasping grammatical concepts, inability to perform precise mouth movements needed for clear speech, and so forth.
Phelps hopes that by determining which parts of the FOXP2 gene are uniformly normal in singing mice and which parts can be mutated without loss of function, he’ll get a clue to what genetic sites are significant in humans. “We can choose any number of traits to study but we try and choose traits that are not only interesting for their own sake but also have some biomedical relevance,” says Phelps. His associate Lauren O’Connell, who works with a number of animal models, commented, “Each of these model systems has something unique to contribute that teaches us about biology that is still applicable to humans.”
Often we see “evolution” get credit for medical breakthroughs, but if Phelps learns something from singing mice applicable, for instance, to autism, it will not be a proof of the importance of evolutionary belief—as we so often hear—but rather a deciphering of the genetically designed similarities that bears fruit. Our common Designer naturally uses many common designs, from genes to anatomical structures, to perform similar functions in different kinds of animals and people.
A bright blue galaxy: is it bursting with new stars?
Is a distant galaxy awaking to bring forth new stars? The galaxy at the center of faraway galaxy cluster SPT-CLJ2344-4243, discovered by astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope, is believed by its discoverers to be producing new stars at a phenomenal rate—about two a day. They write, “The central galaxy, which is both the most massive and most luminous galaxy in the cluster, is considerably bluer than the rest of the member galaxies, suggesting significantly younger stellar populations.”1
The discovery is particularly unusual because the central galaxies in clusters are usually redder and therefore believed by evolutionary astronomers to be older and inactive. As MIT’s Michael McDonald, lead author of the study just published in Nature, says, the central galaxy is mature, about 6 billion years old, and is the kind that doesn’t typically “do anything new . . . what we call red and dead. It seems to have come back to life for some reason.” The team of astronomers therefore calls the galaxy cluster “Phoenix,” after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes.
Star formation has actually never been observed. Sometimes astronomers or the media refer to star formation as if they are actually seeing it happen, but they are not. When astronomers see phenomena near stars, they cannot know that the phenomena they are observing have anything to do with star formation. And, as creationist astronomer Dr. Danny Faulkner of the University of South Carolina—Lancaster points out, “At the distance of this galaxy, individual stars are not visible.”
The blue-ness of the distant galaxy is the reason the researchers believe it is rising from its ashes. Bright blue stars are the hottest stars and burn their fuel very rapidly. The maximum possible age for each color star can be estimated, and only red dwarf stars actually have enough fuel to have been burning since the time of the supposed big bang. Both creationist and evolutionary astronomers agree a blue star could not last more than a few million years. Since the latter claim the universe is 13.7 billion years old, they must assume stars have been forming and burning out since it began. They believe stars are still forming today and blue stars are those most recently formed.
Dr. Faulkner explains, “When a galaxy such as this appears very blue, it likely is because the galaxy's light is dominated by these bright, hot stars with very short lifetimes. However, the conclusion that there is a great deal of star birth happening there is an inference that is laden with evolutionary assumptions.”
Since astronomers with a biblical worldview believe the universe is only about 6,000 years old, blue stars are easily explained. God formed them on the fourth day of Creation Week as His eyewitness account in Genesis 1:16 says. They’ve only been burning for 6,000 years and so have plenty of fuel remaining.
Could stars be forming today? After all, we see supernovae occur in space, so why not star formation too? Although the Bible does not say God is not making more stars, it does say He finished the work of Creation on the sixth day. Genesis 2:1 says, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.”2 When a star goes supernova, an existing star explodes. But star formation and star explosion are not the same.
Michigan State astronomer Megan Donahue commented that the findings will help “answer this basic question of how do galaxies form their stars.” Although “long-age” astronomers like Donahue assume stars must be forming, they do not know how. They believe swirling hydrogen gas must cool and condense until it is dense enough to possess enough gravity to prevent re-expansion. However, gases tend to expand, not contract. Secondly, if a swirling mass of gas contracted, it would spin faster in order to conserve angular momentum, and that increased angular velocity would oppose continued contraction. Finally, such collapse of a nebula would greatly magnify its magnetic field, again opposing the shrinkage required to form a star. Thus the ongoing formation of stars seems contrary to the laws of physics, given the conditions that exist in space.
So is this “starburst” an actual birthplace of stars? Neither we nor they can be certain at this point how to interpret this bluer hotter galaxy in the Phoenix, but the idea that it is bursting with new stars is only an interpretation based on the evolutionary demands to explain the existence of blue stars in a billions-of-years old galaxy. In reality, the existence of hot blue stars that could not possibly last for billions of years is evidence for a young universe.
Either way, evolution gets the credit!
Experts in animal behavior, Professor Alex Kacelnik’s Behavioral Ecology Research Group at Oxford is raising questions about the bias shown by those investigating “pro-social” animal behavior. Kacelnik’s team has examined recent studies of rescue behavior in rats and ants. They suspect investigator bias because virtually identical behavior is interpreted as evidence of cognitive empathy in rats but only a naturally selected survival instinct in ants.
In both the rat and ant studies, the animals made vigorous efforts to free trapped members of their own species (in the case of rats) or colony (in case of ants). As we discussed previously,3 some scientists are wondering whether the real problem these animals are seeking to relieve is their own stress induced by their “neighbor’s” plight. Kacelnik’s group joins that chorus of dissenting voices, concluding that empathy is, as far as science has demonstrated so far, a uniquely human trait.
“Empathy, the capacity to recognize and share feelings experienced by another individual, is an important trait in humans, but is not the same as pro-sociality, the tendency to behave so as to benefit another individual,” they write. “Given the importance of understanding empathy’s evolutionary emergence, it is unsurprising that many studies attempt to find evidence for it in other species.”4
Kacelnik’s team is not casting any stones at evolutionary theory but instead refining its application. “Empathy has been proposed as the motivation behind the sort of ’pro-social’ rescue behavior in which one individual tries to free another,” says Kacelnik. “However, the reproductive benefits of this kind of behavior are relatively well understood as, in nature, they are helping individuals to which they are likely to be genetically related or whose survival is otherwise beneficial to the actor. To prove empathy any experiment must show an individual understands another's feelings and is driven by the psychological goal of improving another's wellbeing. Our view is that, so far, there is no proof of this outside of humans.”
Kacelnik points out that investigators tend to anthropomorphize the behavior of furry mammals and allow that bias to color their evolutionary conclusions. But he clearly supports evolutionary interpretations. He wrote in earlier work concerning smart crows, “The straightforward application of Darwinism to cognition seems a better idea day by day.”5 The correct evolutionary interpretation of both the rat and the ant behavior, Kacelnik’s team here writes, is that the behavior was “designed by natural selection to benefit another” (emphasis theirs), adding, the “adaptive design interpretation is justified because both ants and rats can obtain reproductive benefits by helping group mates who, in nature, are likely to be genetically related. Even if rats in a group were not genetically closer than random, survival of group mates must bring evolutionary benefits; why live in a group otherwise?”6
After all, Kacelnik’s team points out, what does a rat really understand about the emotional state of its brother? It is commendable that Kacelnik calls on animal behavioralists to be more rigorous in their work, not allowing their anthropomorphic biases to influence their conclusions. While Kacelnik makes a reasonable point about the advantages of cooperation—and we’ll accept that he didn’t really intend to imply that natural selection was an actual intelligence that designed anything—like other evolutionists he still clings to the importance of understanding the evolution of, for instance, empathy in humans. Kacelnik has written that he and those in his group “acquire a habit of thinking about ecology, psychology and evolution in whatever topic they are dealing with.”7 They say evolutionary considerations influence “the selection of research questions”7 and form an essential part of “the explanations submitted,”7 so evolutionary thought no doubt colors their interpretations in every area.
Thus Kacelnik has written, “Because humans are outstanding among animal species in their general intelligence and in their sophistication as users and makers of tools, it is not surprising that tool use is often invoked among the candidate traits (together with language, cumulative culture, and excessive prosociality) that may have promoted the development of human intellectual uniqueness.”5 He thus acknowledges human uniqueness yet not the ultimate source of it.
Our common Designer, God, reports to us in the Bible that He created all kinds of animals about 6,000 years ago. The very same week, He created Adam and Eve in His own image. He used common designs to accomplish similar functions in many and to make much adaptation possible, but He created mankind unique. Even differing animal cognitive abilities may well have their roots in God’s original design, as in the Bible we are told of the ostrich “God deprived her of wisdom, and did not endow her with understanding” (Job 39:17), though we cannot know how many differences developed after the curse of sin entered the world. While it’s interesting to study animal behavior and be awed by its diversity and complexity, it is not something that evolved in an upward process ultimately leading to human empathy. God clearly created all kinds of animals and human beings without evolution, to reproduce after their kinds, by the power of His spoken word. Adam did not find any animals like himself, the Bible reports (Genesis 2:20), because he, like Eve whom God would soon create, was made in the image of God with attributes and understanding simply not in the “toolkit” of the animal kinds.
Computer simulation of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny cited as evidence.
In an effort to explain seemingly unnecessary steps in embryological development, a group from Michigan State’s BEACON Center of Evolution in Action reports, “We have observed that ontogeny does indeed recapitulate phylogeny,”8 at least in computer simulations.
Recapitulation theory—proposed as early as 1811 but made famous in 1866 by Ernst Haeckel who produced “doctored” (fraudulent) evidence to support it—is the notion that embryonic development (ontogeny) re-enacts (recapitulates) evolutionary history (phylogeny). While Jeff Clune and colleagues admit, “Biologists have long debated whether ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,”8 they attribute the historical disfavor into which the theory has drifted to the inability to “explain why evolution would operate in this way.”8 In other words, if embryos really recapitulate evolution, what was the evolutionary advantage of anatomic structures that develop and ultimately don’t get used?
Clune’s group writes, “It is difficult to test these hypotheses experimentally in natural systems,” so they designed digital organisms to do what is unobservable in nature. Evolutionists contend molecules-to-man evolution proceeds too slowly for us to really detect it, but “computational evolution” can simulate evolution in an accelerated fashion. Clune’s non-corporeal digital creatures are called Avidians. They are actually computer programs, not the avatars familiar to video gamers. Avidians are “self-replicating computer programs” which are designed to “mutate, compete for resources, and evolve, mimicking natural selection in real-life organisms.” Clune’s team concludes that its successful simulation of mechanisms that drive ontogeny and phylogeny is “a useful step towards clarifying the debate.”8
“Many animals build tissues and structures they don’t appear to use, and then they disappear,” says Clune. “In a developing embryo, each new structure is built in a delicate environment that consists of everything that has already developed,” he explains. “Mutations that alter that environment, such as by eliminating a structure, can thus disrupt later stages of development. Even if a structure is not actually used, it may set the stage for other functional tissues to grow properly.”
Clune uses a metaphor to explain the difference between the way “evolution tinkers” and the way human engineers design buildings. “It’s comparable to building a roller coaster, razing it, and building a skyscraper on the same ground. Why not just skip ahead to building the skyscraper?” he says. “An engineer would simply skip the roller coaster step, but evolution is more of a tinkerer and less of an engineer. It uses whatever parts that are lying around, even if the process that generates those parts is inefficient.”
Avidians exist in “a virtual world in which populations of digital organisms evolve by random mutation, genetic drift, and natural selection acting on phenotypic differences among individuals.”8 Avidians are programmed to self-replicate and to develop characteristics based on their virtual genomes. The replication is designed to be imperfect to simulate mutations. Avidians that function well receive an energy boost that enables them to replicate, thus imitating the process of natural selection.
The logical developmental order in a live embryo or a virtual imitation uses simple building blocks to increase complexity. Most mutations that occurred early in the Avidian development were detrimental, destroying abilities that were foundational for later functions. The few mutations that were not destructive or inconsequential within the virtual environment increased the apparent complexity of the computer programs. Thus, the usefulness of a stepwise development was necessary for both virtual embryonic development and virtual evolution.
But does any of this demonstrate that biological evolution of new kinds of organisms even occurs? Much less that biological embryos re-enact an evolutionary past? Far from it!
First of all, the ability to design a program for a computer to model evolution does not demonstrate random evolution occurred in biological systems. Secondly, the Avidians didn’t even model the evolution of new kinds but only variation within “created” kinds. Those who claim biological ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny propose embryos re-enact upward evolution through distinct kinds, such as by saying humans pass through a fish stage, amphibian stage, and so forth. The Avidians merely reshuffled and tweaked the information they were provided to start with. They did not acquire the information from their mutations to become something more than computer programs, just computer programs that did what their available tools made possible in the first place.
God tells us in Genesis that He created all the kinds of living things during the same week and designed them to reproduce after their kinds. We see in nature that organisms vary within their kinds (such as fish adapting to saltier water) but have never actually observed one kind of organism changing into another kind (such as a fish becoming a mammal). Despite the claims of evolutionists that these changes occurred in the past, no undisputed transitional forms provide such documentation.
Furthermore, embryology and comparative anatomy reveal what we would expect from a common Designer. Embryos of various organisms have similar appearing templates adaptable to a variety of forms as development proceeds. That’s not evolution, or recapitulation; it’s just embryonic development.
Embryologic intermediates do not by their existence imply an evolutionary heritage. For example, so-called “gill slits” in humans never have anything to do with respiration at all but are merely called that because they happen to superficially resemble simple gills. Other “simple” forms, like the tube that later twists to form the chambers of the human heart, are essential to the proper development of the final anatomy. But nothing about the early embryonic tubular shape of the heart demonstrates humans evolved from lesser creatures but only that God designed the human heart’s anatomy from an elaborately shaped tube. Embryologic development is logically designed and observable. Any connection to evolutionary phylogeny is imaginative speculation.
We see in this study a computer model of the sensible stepwise way God designed embryos to develop. That’s all.
Belfast columnist believes creationists are deluded people who have abandoned reason.
Belfast Telegraph columnist Fionola Meredith attended one of Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis talks during his recent speaking tour in Northern Ireland and definitely saw red. Her half-page column in the August 15 issue of the paper consists of a massive military metaphor railing against—and misrepresenting—Ken’s message and Answers in Genesis’ position. She accuses Ken of delivering a “blood-red battle-cry” in “a rapid-fire hectoring machine-gun rattle which . . . gave listeners no time to think for themselves.” However, a reading of her column would suggest Ms. Meredith is the one sounding the clarion call-to-arms. She warns readers against being “dangerously complacent” by dismissing what she calls “Ham’s one-dimensional, apocalyptic vision as the rantings of a misguided man.”
Columnist Meredith is offended that Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis have an uncompromising view of Scripture and consider God’s Word true from the very first verse. She is confused, however, about the relationship between science and the Bible. Ms. Meredith thinks Answers in Genesis claims that the Bible is “provable by science.” Answers in Genesis maintains that what we see in God’s world confirms what we read in God’s Word. Confirming and proving are not synonymous.
Experimental science can provide data about processes observable in the present, but in order to draw conclusions concerning our origins—events of the unobservable untestable past—scientists must interpret data in light of their own worldviews. Evolutionary scientists believe that molecules-to-man evolution occurred, that all things came to be by random natural processes. Even though they cannot test or confirm those beliefs, they accept those beliefs as unarguable facts. Creation scientists accept the authority of the only Eyewitness present at the time of our origins and interpret facts in light of God’s truth, knowing that only those interpretations have any possibility of being true.
Ms. Meredith accuses biblical creationists of targeting children in schools and indoctrinating them. We would have to ask just what schools she is speaking of—certainly not those in the U.K. or the U.S.! Not only does Answers in Genesis not suggest that creation science teaching be mandated in public schools, the laws would prevent it. Admission that controversy exists and encouraging children to think critically is not indoctrination. On the contrary, deceiving children by telling them no controversy exists and demanding they accept evolutionary ideas as axiomatic unquestioned facts is indoctrination. Answers in Genesis encourages schools to allow critical thinking and academic freedom in the open discussion of the scientific claims of evolutionists. And we encourage parents and churches to equip their children and all Christians to enable them to understand the claims of those who would indoctrinate them by demanding they deny and distrust God’s Word. 9
Ms. Meredith warns her readers not to let Ken Ham shape their view of the world, believing that those so influenced are deluded, are unable to think for themselves, and have abandoned reason. Sadly, she makes the same error many do—believing that by rejecting God’s Word they are free of bias. Yet evolutionists themselves have a pre-existing bias: they “must not allow a divine foot in the door.”10 That position is not one of “thinking for oneself” but a decision to reject authoritative information from the Creator God who made all things.
The pastor of one of the churches that hosted Ken Ham wrote a reply to the Belfast Telegraph condemning Ms. Meredith’s unfair caricature of Ken Ham. In it, he defends the good sense, intelligence, and integrity of his congregation and his community. Pastor Trevor Ramsey of Newtownbreda Baptist Church Belfast writes:
As the pastor of a large Belfast church, who was unashamedly willing to invite Ken Ham to address our intelligent, clear thinking, literate community, I simply ask: Might there be a possibility that the Creationist viewpoint is the correct one? People like Ham and right-thinking Christians are indeed dangerous - to the uncritical mass of people who blindly accept the evolutionist position as unquestioning “fact.”11
Creationists from Answers in Genesis are not exhorting Christians to rise up in a militant frenzy but to obey the biblical exhortation (1 Peter 3:15) to be able with a good attitude to explain the hope that we have. We trust the living Christ with our present lives and our eternal futures, and we base that trust on the Word of God which answers, among other things, how sin and death came to afflict humanity and why we need to be saved. That understanding comes from accepting what God says from the very first verse.
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