There’s more than one way to build a beak.
Darwin’s Galapagos finch beaks are commonly thought of as a prime proof of Darwinian evolution, although in reality they only demonstrate variety among finches. Proving that no new genetic information was required to achieve such diverse dietary adaptability, a 2010 study confirmed that Darwin’s finches developed 14 different sorts of beaks using the same developmental pathways and genetic products. Control of size and curvature during development produces the variations. Now a study of three species of Caribbean bullfinches has uncovered surprising diversity even in the ways beak diversity is achieved.
This female is a Greater Antillean bullfinch (Loxigilla violacea). L. violacea, the Puerto Rican bullfinch (Loxigilla portoricensis), and the smaller Lesser Antillean bullfinch (Loxigilla noctis) all have deep wide beaks able to crush very hard seeds. Their beaks are the same shape with slightly different sizes. However, the [two] larger species “use a novel combination of two signaling molecules to build a beak identical in shape to the [beak of the] smaller bullfinch”1 without producing a cartilage template. Thus, genetically and developmentally different processes produce the same beak shape in different Loxigilla species (photo by José M. Pantaleón at www.seas.harvard.edu).
This male is a Puerto Rican bullfinch (Loxigilla portoricensis). The same developmental process builds its beak and that of the Greater Antillean bullfinch (L. violacea) directly from bone. Yet Loxigilla noctis builds a beak of identical shape using a different sequence of regulatory genes and a cartilage template. Image from Carlos David Hernández through en.wikipedia.org.
Caribbean bullfinches crush incredibly hard seeds “that no one else can touch,” says principal investigator Arhat Abzhanov. “You'd actually need a pair of pliers to crack these seeds yourself; it takes 300 to 400 Newtons [67 to 90 pounds] of force, so that's a really nice niche if you can do that. But the question is, what developmental changes must have occurred to produce a specialized beak like that?” While “all modern birds share the same overall beak skeletal structure,”2 the three-dimensional structure of bird beaks varies greatly. Beaks suited to a wide range of dietary options appear in nature, equipping birds to fill many ecological niches.
“Variation in beak shape has profound impacts on the ability of an organism to survive and reproduce in the wild,” Abzhanov and colleagues write. “Therefore, its adaptive significance coupled to the extreme levels of diversity observed in nature make this trait ideal for tackling developmental and evolutionary questions about morphological diversification in general.”2
“Most people assume that there's this flow of information from genes for development to an inevitable morphology,” Abzhanov says. “Those beaks are very highly adaptive in their shapes and sizes, and extremely important for these birds. In Darwin's finches, even one millimeter of difference in proportion or size can mean life or death during difficult times. But can we look at it from a bioengineering perspective and say that in order to generate the exact same morphological shape, you actually require the same developmental process to build it? Our latest research suggests not.”
Abzhanov found that the same developmental path applying the same genetic information can produce different sorts of beaks. But he also found that the same beak shape can be achieved using different developmental pathways and different genetic instructions. Thus, the researchers report, “Different developmental programs can generate identical shapes, and similar developmental programs can pattern different shapes.”3
By geometrically analyzing the beaks of the three living Loxigilla bullfinch species, the researchers were able to confirm their beaks of varying size were identical in shape. To study beak embryology, they went to the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Puerto Rico to collect tiny, fragile, freshly laid eggs from dome-shaped nests often found atop tall cacti. Beaks begin to develop around day 6 or 7.
The small bullfinch’s (Loxigilla noctis) embryo starts with a cartilage template and, under the influence of the same sequence of control genes seen in Darwin’s finches, builds a bony beak. Its beak does not resemble any of the 14 Darwinian finch beaks. But the two larger Loxigilla species form bony beaks without a cartilage template under the direction of a different combination of genes.
“Despite the fact that these birds are using different systems, they end up with the same shape beak, and a different shape beak from Darwin's finches,” Abzhanov emphasizes, even though the system operating in L. noctis is the same system as that in Darwin’s finches. “So that reveals a surprising amount of flexibility in both the shapes and the molecular interactions that support them. . . . For evolution, the main thing that matters for selection is what the beak actually looks like at the end, or specifically what it can do. The multiple ways to build that beak can be continually changing, provided they deliver the same results.”
This study has not provided an example of Darwinian evolution. It has not revealed acquisition of a blueprint for evolutionary progress toward a non-bird. On the contrary, it hints at the multiplicity of ways that existing genetic information can be used to achieve diverse results. God created “every winged bird according to its kind” in order to “let birds multiply on the earth” (Genesis 1:21–22). This study suggests one of the ways God equipped them to vary within their kinds in order to adapt to changing variable ecological conditions in the world.
Venomous variations of nontoxic proteins and a potent painkiller in mamba venom point to variability available within created kinds.
The deadly black mamba may have in its venom the secret to a new generation of potent painkillers. French pharmacologist Dr. Eric Lingueglia and colleagues report in Nature4 that they have isolated chemicals they call mambalgins from mamba venom. Tested in mice, which possess pain physiology similar to humans, mambalgins are as powerful as morphine. Unlike morphine, mambalgins don’t act through the usual narcotic pathways, do not suppress respiration, do not induce tolerance, and probably lack narcotic side effects and addictive potential. And unlike other components of mamba venom, mambalgins aren’t deadly.
“When it was tested in mice, the analgesia was as strong as morphine, but you don't have most of the side-effects,” Dr. Lingueglia explains. “It is the very first stage, of course, and it is difficult to tell if it will be a painkiller in humans or not. A lot more work still needs to be done in animals.” Encouraging, though, is the fact that tests on human cells suggest that they will respond as those in mice.
Snake venom has long been a valuable research tool. Toxins attack nerve function in different ways, so venom analysis has helped unravel the way nerve cell ion channels function. The discovery of mambalgins should add to our knowledge of how pain works, providing better understanding of the cellular targets for new pharmaceuticals. In addition, the mambalgins themselves may morph into new wonder drugs for pain control.
Dr. Nicholas Casewell, an expert in snake venom at Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine, recently published a study5 pointing to the potential of venom as a drug source. Previous genomic analysis of snake venom has demonstrated that components are produced by small variations and duplications of the genes for physiologically useful nontoxic snake proteins.6 Building on that research, Casewell and colleagues suspect a dynamic process in which variations in existing genomic material can lead to toxic products as well as the reverse, making physiologically useful nontoxic molecules.
Casewell says, “Our results demonstrate that the evolution of venoms is a really complex process. The venom gland of snakes appears to be a melting pot for evolving new functions for molecules, some of which are retained in venom for killing prey, while others go on to serve new functions in other tissues in the body.” Because of this, he suggests pharmacologists may find a wellspring of potent but harmless versions of toxic molecules elsewhere in snakes’ bodies.
“Many snake venom toxins target the same physiological pathways that doctors would like to target to treat a variety of medical conditions,” explains coauthor Dr. Wolfgang Wüster of Bangor University. “Understanding how toxins can be tamed into harmless physiological proteins may aid development of cures from venom.” This French discovery appearing on the heels of these prophetic pronouncements may prove to be a case in point. Casewell says of the mambalgin discovery, “It's very exciting, it's a really great example of drugs from venom, we're talking about an entirely new class of analgesics.”
From an evolutionary point of view, the inclusion of a painkiller in deadly, fast-acting venom does not make a lot of sense. Indeed, having found no such substance in 50 other snake venoms, Dr. Lingueglia said the discovery was “really surprising.” From a biblical perspective these discoveries make sense.
When God created all kinds of animals and plants about 6,000 years ago, He created them to reproduce after their kinds and provided them with the genetic potential to vary. Yet He also created them in a perfect and nonviolent uncursed world devoid of animal (and human) death.7 After Adam’s sin brought a divine curse upon all of creation, many “defense and attack structures” developed.8 In the case of venom, discoveries such as these demonstrate that new genetic information was not needed in order to develop venom.
Evolutionists compare this scenario to Lenski’s claims concerning the evolution of citrate utilization in E. coli, saying, “It’s common for genes to get duplicated, and for the new copy to be rewired for a new job. Snake venom, to pick one example, also evolved when genes were accidentally copied and then rewired.”9 As in the case of Lenski’s discovery,10 however, none of these discoveries demonstrate acquisition of new genetic information or evolution of more complex kinds of organisms. Rather, they highlight the variability that can be achieved within created kinds of organisms. About 6,000 years ago God cursed a serpent above all other creatures (Genesis 3:14–15) for the role11 it played in the Fall of man. How ironic it would be if the deadly mamba today contains the key to easing the curse of pain for many.
Extinct marine crocodiles resemble killer whales
Jurassic crocodile fossils have generated a confusing array of classification schemes among paleontologists. Researchers comparing the jaws of two of these fearsome creatures—Dakosaurus maximus and Dakosaurus manselii—have discovered differences prompting them to “unbundle” the beasts, each into its own distinctive genus. They also discovered surprising similarities between the crocodiles and marine mammals.
The extinct crocodiles, now renamed Dakosaurus maximus and Plesiosuchus manselii, had large bodies and large mouths. By analyzing the shape and size of their mouths as well as the shape, arrangement, and wear patterns on their teeth, the researchers suggest what feeding options would have been available to these animals. Each had notable similarities to certain types of modern killer whales.
Plesiosuchus manselii takes the prize for size. “The largest known skull of Plesiosuchus manselii was approximately four feet, three inches long, putting it in the size range of adult T. rex skulls,” according to lead author Mark Young. The largest known sea crocodile, “It was bigger than living salt water crocodiles and great white sharks.” This animal’s jaw was able to achieve “a very large optimum gape (gape at which multiple teeth come into contact with a prey-item).”12 The tooth placement and the snout shape, however, suggest this huge animal’s teeth couldn’t withstand a fight with a struggling reluctant victim. But like “type 1” North Atlantic killer whales, it was well-equipped to open wide and gulp down whole fish.
Dakosaurus maximus, though possibly smaller than Plesiosuchus by over six feet based on the size of known fossils, was equipped for more adventuresome eating. Biomechanical analysis of its snout and teeth suggest it could withstand forceful torsion. It also appears to have been able to generate a good deal of suction, something juvenile killer whales also do. Furthermore, the extreme enamel fragmentation and patterns of crown breakage on this animal’s teeth are reminiscent of that seen in another modern killer whale, Orcinus orca. This particular species of killer whale preys on sharks, presenting its teeth with frequent abrasive challenges. The researchers therefore suspect Plesiosuchus preferred the same sort of prey. It could handle food of its own size mechanically and may have been able to suck in its victims. Its teeth suggest it was not averse to a raspy, abrasive meal.
The evolutionary explanation for the remarkable similarity of feeding equipment between these extinct reptiles and modern marine mammals is convergent evolution. “Convergence is the evolution of a similar body plan, feeding mechanism (or other characteristic or behavior) in two different and not closely related groups, in this case crocodiles and mammals,” Young says. “The continual evolution of these morphologies in distantly related groups could be telling us something about the limits and optimal method of underwater feeding in vertebrates.”
Paleontologists draw conclusions about extinct animal diets primarily from analyzing their teeth. This approach clearly has limits, as we have often noted in discussions of the pre-Fall vegetarian design of all animals. The Bible indicates the original animals were not carnivorous.13 Nothing about strong sharp teeth and big gaping jaws proves they evolved in order to eat big prey. In this case, of course, the fossils being examined belonged to animals alive at the time of Noah’s Flood, almost 1,700 years after God created the animals. Therefore, the similarity of the tooth wear patterns to modern killer whales and the variety of feeding design capabilities present in these animals may well reveal not only what they were capable of eating but also what they had been eating.
Common designs in reptiles and mammals are no surprise, for a wise common Designer—our Creator God—would use useful designs in a variety of contexts. Nothing in this research demonstrates evolutionary relationships or proves convergent evolution occurred but rather shows the variety that can exist within a particular kind of animal, equipping it to care for itself in many habitats.
While sharp teeth and gaping jaws could be used for non-carnivorous purposes, we do not know what the teeth and jaws of the originally created ancestor of these animals looked like. Today's discussion of the way the same genetic information can be applied to produce a wide variety of finch beaks calls attention to the sort of variation possible within a created kind of animal. After man's sin brought the curse of death into the world, many animals developed the variations needed for both defense and attack.14
First amendment hangs in the balance.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Those are first words of the first amendment to the United States Constitution. They provide protection for the first right to receive a special guarantee under the Constitution. At least they are supposed to.
The new health care law, dubbed Obamacare, opened the way for the Department of Health and Human Services to require businesses to provide medical coverage for drugs that cause early pregnancy loss as a “contraceptive” benefit. But the “morning-after pill” and “week-after pill” destroy the lives of unborn human beings. They can prevent the implantation of an embryo or destroy an embryo soon after implantation. Being required to provide this “service” to their employees violates the Christian principles of many American business owners, hospitals, educational institutions, and religious organizations.
While churches are exempt from the “Mandate,” these other institutions are not. And a growing number are opting to fight against this intrusion on their religious freedom. As we reported last week, for instance, the Green family that owns the art and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby says, “We can’t in good conscience pay for those things because they could cause an abortion at the very early stages of a pregnancy.”15
Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University have added their voices to other Baptist and Catholic colleges and universities as well as businesses such as the Eternal Word Television Network, Tyndale house publishers, and Hobby Lobby to petition the courts for constitutional protection.16 This brings the rising total to 33 lawsuits, variously represented by the Becket Fund, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the Alliance Defense Fund.17
The lawsuit filed on behalf of these two Baptist universities states,
The Universities’ religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion. . . . The government’s Mandate unconstitutionally coerces the Universities to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties.
Having to pay a fine to the taxing authorities for the privilege of practicing one’s religion or controlling one’s own speech is un-American, unprecedented and flagrantly unconstitutional.18
What sort of fine? Any amount is too much, but $10 million per year per institution is the actual figure.17 The suit goes on to say,
The Mandate can be interpreted as nothing other than a deliberate attack by the government on the religious beliefs of the Universities and millions of other Americans.
The first amendment guarantee of religious freedom was added to the United States Constitution for a very good reason. While the reprehensible death penalties imposed under both Catholic and Protestant regimes in Europe and elsewhere were not common here, early America was the scene of much religious persecution in the forms of imprisonments and fines. “America’s first Baptist leader, Roger Williams, had to flee Massachusetts and found a colony in Providence, Rhode Island, because his religious beliefs were not tolerated by the laws of Massachusetts,” recalls Becket Fund counsel Eric Rassbach. “Baptists in America, by virtue of their history, are particularly sensitive to coercive government actions that infringe on religious liberty.”17
The ongoing plight of Baptists persecuted in Anglican Virginia ultimately pushed James Madison (an Anglican and author of the Bill of Rights) to pursue guarantees of religious freedom in Virginia and eventually for the new nation.19 Samuel Oliver, president of East Texas Baptist University, recalls, “Baptists have always advocated religious liberty, and religious liberty is what is at stake in this situation. As the famous Baptist preacher George W. Truett once remarked, ‘A Baptist would rise at midnight to plead for absolute religious liberty for his Catholic neighbor, and for his Jewish neighbor, and for everybody else.’ We are rising today to ensure that religious liberty, the first freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, is protected and preserved.”
These institutions, by opposing violation of religious freedom by mandates and fines, are following in the footsteps of the Virginia Association of Baptists. On December 25, 1776, they drafted a resolution protesting the government’s assessment of a religious tax. They declared such practices to be “pregnant with various Evils destructive to the Rights and Privileges of religious society.”20 Demanding the rights of all to “free exercise of religion,” they wrote,
Sorry should we be to see the Seeds of oppression sown by the Hand of Power among us, and as we think it our Duty, to our utmost in a legal Way, to retard, or if possible prevent the luxuriant growth of a Plant that has always brought forth the most bitter and baneful Fruit.20
Indeed, the thought of paying a fine to practice your religion should chill every American, even those who don’t oppose the use of abortifacients. Religious freedom for all is just too precious and too hard-won to surrender.
Congressman shares belief that evolutionary teaching creates a stumbling block to understanding our need for our Savior.
Georgia Congressman Paul Broun is being mocked by many in the media for his public stand on the truth of God’s Word. Speaking September 27 at the 2012 Sportsman’s Banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia, the Congressman declared, “God’s Word is true.” In contrast to the truth of God’s Word, he said the things he was taught about evolution, embryology (no doubt referring to its use to support evolution through the theory of embryonic recapitulation),21 and the big bang were lies. And those lies, he says, are “from the pit of hell” because they create a stumbling block to keep people from understanding their need for a Savior.
Dr. Broun’s assessment of the terrible impact of the popularization of evolutionary dogma should remind us of the words of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings [which include Genesis], how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46–47) Understanding the origin of sin, guilt, and death provides a firm foundation for seeing the need to depend on God’s grace through Christ’s shed blood for salvation. Furthermore, trust in the Bible from its beginning provides the foundation to faithfully trust all of God’s Word, which has many teachings relevant to the governing of a just and righteous society (which as Proverbs 14:34 says, exalts a nation).
Some of the jibes directed at Congressman Broun have been based on his identification of himself “as a scientist.” Dr. Paul Broun is a medical doctor, a graduate of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. He completed his residency at the prestigious University Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently chairs a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology. Many remarks in the media have been quite nasty, and many headlines declare him to be “anti-science.”
This sort of name-calling is absurd, as a physician is as much a scientist as an astronomer or a geologist or a biologist. Each has an area of specialty. Medical doctors spend a great deal of time learning advanced levels of basic science as a foundation for even more advanced levels of medical science. They apply scientific principles as they make observations, perform tests, evaluate controlled scientific tests of treatment options, and make informed decisions about the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of their patients. And as last spring’s furor over the eminent physician Dr. Benjamin Carson’s understanding of science illustrates,22 acquiring a belief in Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and young earth creation does not strip a scientist of his or her credentials or the ability to understand and apply sound scientific principles.
Congressman Broun declared his belief in a young earth with creation in six literal days. He mentioned that scientific data back up his beliefs. As we often point out, it is only by making worldview-based interpretations of data rooted in unverifiable ideas of uniformitarian naturalism that scientists can claim the earth is over four billion years old. (See Philosophical Naturalism and the Age of the Earth: Are They Related? to learn more.) On the other hand, interpretations of the scientific data based on the authoritative historical account provided by God in the Bible support a young-earth view. As to how young, although the congressmen mentioned 9,000 years, we would put the age at around 6,000 years based on our assessment of biblical chronology. And of course, these numbers are a far cry from the vast ages claimed by evolutionists.
The Devil’s lies have been fooling people ever since Eve heard the serpent question God’s truthfulness and character.11 Dr. Broun fingered the real liar—the Devil—when he said the lies of evolution are from hell. Jesus said to those Pharisees who perverted God’s Word, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Many of those Pharisees doubtless thought they were right. The same can be said of many evolutionists who sincerely believe what they teach, but the source of evolution’s lie is the Devil, who is using the evolutionists to deceive the whole world (cf Revelation 12:9).
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