Lucy was a real swinger.
To support their contention that ape-like ancestors became human because they learned to walk upright, evolutionists would like to bring Lucy down from the trees. But paleoanthropologists David Green and Zeresenay Alemseged have determined Lucy’s cousins retained their anatomical equipment for swinging through the forest and therefore likely did just that.
“The question as to whether Australopithecus afarensis was strictly bipedal or if they also climbed trees has been intensely debated for more than 30 years,” Green explains. “These remarkable fossils provide strong evidence that these individuals were still climbing at this stage in human evolution.”
Australopithecus afarensis, of which the most well known specimen is “Lucy,” is an extinct ape widely accepted among evolutionists as a human ancestor that was acquiring features useful to a proto-human.
Some evolutionists, zealous to depict Lucy as bipedal, get offended at the Creation Museum’s anatomically correct reconstruction depicting her as a knuckle-walker and even ignore the evidence presented by other evolutionists that her wrists were well suited to supporting her weight.1 If Lucy and her cousins could be shown to have abandoned the trees, so much the better. Of course, evolutionary thinking always has a way to adapt to any data. So, since the latest data leaves the afarensis family flying through the air with the greatest of ease, that’s okay too.
Alemseged discovered a female juvenile Au. afarensis fossil, nicknamed “Selam,” in 2000. “Before DIK-1-1’s discovery,” he and Green write, ”the limited number of fossil scapulae [shoulder blades] provided only tentative clues that the australopith shoulder was apelike.”2 “Because shoulder blades are paper-thin, they rarely fossilize, and when they do, they are almost always fragmentary,” Alemseged says. “So finding both shoulder blades completely intact and attached to a skeleton of a known and pivotal species was like hitting the jackpot.” By examining them, the researchers have determined that Selam, just like modern apes, was well-equipped for climbing.
The shoulder has a ball-and-socket joint that provides excellent range of motion. Thanks to this joint, both humans and apes can raise their arms above their heads. In humans, the socket (glenoid fossa) is pointed to the side. But in apes, the socket is oriented more upwards, a helpful arrangement for animals that regularly dangle their body weight from their shoulders.
“The scapulae of the African apes, and to a lesser extent, Pongo [orangutans], differ from those of Homo [humans] in possessing more cranially oriented glenoid fossae, which may be an adaptation to more effectively distribute strain over the joint capsule during climbing and reaching when the upper limb is loaded.”2 Also, on the back of the scapula, the spine, a bony ridge to which muscles like the trapezius attach, is closer to the horizontal in humans, but “Suspensory great apes also possess obliquely oriented scapular spines.”2 (See the illustration.)
Green and Alemseged compared Selam’s shoulder blades to those of juvenile and adult australopithecines (afarensis and africanus), gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, Homo erectus, Homo floresiensis, and modern humans. Both sorts of extinct humans (H. erectus and H. floresiensis) had laterally facing sockets and the more or less horizontal scapular spines typical of modern humans.3 Selam’s shoulder blades, however, were in all ways ape-like and most closely matched the gorilla.2
“The apelike appearance of the most complete A. afarensis scapulae [i.e. Selam’s] strengthens the hypothesis that these hominins participated in a behavioral strategy that incorporated a considerable amount of arboreal behaviors in addition to bipedal locomotion,” they conclude.2 “This new find confirms the pivotal place that Lucy and Selam's species occupies in human evolution,” Alemseged says. “While bipedal like humans, A. afarensis was still a capable climber. Though not fully human, A. afarensis was clearly on its way.”
What is clear, actually, is that the evolutionists have found additional anatomical evidence that Australopithecus afarensis was just an ape. Nothing about the results screams “human” or “human-in-the-making” but only “ape.” Scooting australopithecines along the evolutionary path to “human-hood” is a job for the evolutionary imagination. But if Lucy and Selam were not extinct, they’d just be another exhibit in the ape section of the zoo. God created apes and humans on the same day about 6,000 years ago. Humans did not evolve from ape-like predecessors.
History channel’s survey of human history opens with a sadly skewed story.
Mankind: The Story of All of Us, a new 12-hour miniseries, premiered this week on the History Channel. Promotional materials say this program shows “how mankind's path is guided by events that stretch back, not hundreds, but thousands, even millions of years.”4
The episode opens with the big bang and then jumps to the appearance of humans on earth, a planet suited for life because it has liquid water. The molecules-to-man evolutionary story is left out, as the time constraints in the series are packed. But picking up with the story of early man—depicted by stereotypical modern African tribesmen— already evolved in African grasslands, the program proceeds to depict the standard evolutionary view of man’s development.
In contrast to biblical history, which indicates early man had agricultural skills, Mankind: The Story of All of Us tells the evolutionary tale depicting early man as hunter-gatherers who developed farming skills much later. Image: © TM &2011 History Channel USA through www.history.co.uk
Though the show replaces the conventional ape-like ancestors with natives decently clothed and in their right minds, “expert” narrators keep the evolutionary party line before us. Early humans are depicted as hunter-gatherers. While spear-toting tribesmen stalk dinner, “military expert and former Navy SEAL” Richard “Mack” Machowicz explains that to compete with animals and secure food, man had to walk on two legs and invent tools. “You have to be on two feet,” he emphasizes.5 “You have to free up your hands, and freeing up your hands to work with tools changes the game, and there is no other species on this planet that committed to weapon use and tool use like us.” The voice-over then explains that we would “spend the next hundred millennia perfecting weapons that kill at a distance.” (While the timeframe, 100,000 years, is an evolutionary distortion, the violence of human history is at least a reality.)
Shifting gears momentarily from its military sneak-peek, the program presents the evolutionary version of the Promethean myth. Fire is “the element that makes us who we are.” How? “Cooking our food gives us a second stomach outside of our body” to begin digestion, explains popular TV health show host Dr. Mehmet Oz. As a result, Oz says, “We get a smaller stomach and therefore a bigger brain.” The voice-over adds, “Better nutrition boosts the human brain. Over 2 million years, it more than doubles in size with trillions of connections—the most complex structure in the universe—letting us think, communicate, and love.” And to emphasize the point, chef Anthony Bourdain explains, “It could be argued that society, any kind of society, began with the cooking of meat over flame.”
This assessment of course ignores the got-to-cook-the-veggies-to-grow-a bigger-brain evolutionary stage,6 but then natives gathering roots and nuts aren’t as visually appealing to TV viewers as natives stalking antelope. To make its superficial survey of history interesting, the producers designed a program that, according to the LA Times “with its emphasis on battles, weapons and gadgetry, is clearly aimed at engaging the easily distracted preteen male.”
Thus, as early man trudges out of Africa and eventually learns to farm, we see the textbook evolutionary version of history. Though not illustrated with microcephalic ape-men becoming human, the evolutionary thread is clear. Bipedality allegedly allowed our ancestors to use tools to get better food that they could then cook, facilitating evolution of bigger brains. They then moved out of Africa and learned to farm, steal, and use weapons against each other.
Needless to say, the program ignores biblical history. The Bible does get a literary mention with an allusion to the biblical association of Megiddo with Armageddon. But the narrator says that Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III’s battle at Megiddo was “the first recorded battle in the story of mankind,” ignoring the biblical historical record of battles that long preceded it, such as the battle of kings in the valley of Siddim in Abraham’s time, as described in Genesis chapter 14.
By ignoring biblical history, the producers present a distorted view of civilization’s earliest development. Missing are the historical Adam and Eve, the Genesis 4 record of man’s early competence in metallurgy and musical instruments, the fact that man started out as a farmer not a hunter-gather, and of course the global Flood. Also missing is the pivotal dispersion from the Tower of Babel, the watershed moment from which sprang people groups that eventually developed into tribes and nations.
But then, to acknowledge the Bible’s legitimacy as a historical document might lead viewers to believe what it says about God. It might lead people to consider the Bible’s explanation for all the death and violence that make up much of our history. And it might lead people to then seek an answer for their personal guilt and need for an eternal purpose in Jesus Christ.
The LA Times mentioned an advisory regarding the “coarse language” that crops up in the program. We would issue a “reality advisory.” The program’s first episode does not depict history accurately. The Bible is a reliable source of history, and to simply ignore it in favor of an oft-told secular humanistic saga is a dangerous omission for viewers young and old—including the “easily distracted preteen male.”
The evolutionary aspects of this episode, since they skip the molecules-to-man story, are more insidious for its absence. The notions that bipedality freed our hands to use tools and that cooking fueled the evolution of bigger brains don't look so absurd when modern African natives appear in the ancient roles. These evolutionary ideas may go unrecognized by the unwary. Many people don't realize that evolutionary humanistic claims go way past Genesis 11.
Moreover, cooking our food didn’t make our brains grow big enough to “think, communicate, and love.” God created Adam and Eve in His own image, able to think, communicate, and have loving relationships with each other and with Him. He even allowed them the freedom to rebel against their Creator. That rebellion is the key event to explaining the violence in history, and trusting in the love and grace of God from creation to Christ is still the key to solving our worst problems.
Were feathered dinosaurs found in Canada?
“If we were in China, we’d call these feathers,” said curator François Therrien, as he examined some Canadian dinosaurs from Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. “It became the running joke.”7 The three ostrich-like ornithomimids had been found in Upper Cretaceous deposits of Alberta, Canada. Finally the idea took flight, leading to a full-fledged publication in Science. Hailed as the first feathered dinosaurs outside China8 and Germany,9 adult ornithomimids are said to have sported long feathered wings. But what did Darla Zelenitsky, François Therrien, and their colleagues really find?
In addition to “filamentous feathers”—0.5 mm (less than 2/100 of an inch) wide and 15-50 mm (about ½ to 2 inches) long—the team found, not feathers, but “linear markings on the surfaces of the ulna and radius”10 of one adult’s forelimb. The little marks, 1.5 mm (less than 6/100 of an inch) wide, measured up to 6.5 mm (about ¼ inch) long.10 The team reports their distribution was consistent with what they would expect if the insertions of feathers on a bird’s bones fossilized.10 “We don't know how long the shafted feathers were on the adult ‘wings,’” Therrien said. “But, based on the size of the markings, we think the ‘wing feathers’ would have been much longer than the filamentous feathers.”
Ornithomimus means “bird mimic.”10 “They superficially resembled ostriches, with a toothless beak, large eyes, long legs, long tail, and now we know they had feathers,” Zelenitsky says, “but these animals were not closely related to ostriches.” The turkey-sized juvenile was about 5 feet long. The two ostrich-sized adults, about 12 feet long, are thought to have been too big to fly.
The juvenile, with only filaments, could not have flown from predators. So if ornithomimids really had feathers, researchers want to know what they used them for. What selective advantage could feathers have provided? “The fact that wing-like forelimbs developed in more mature individuals suggests they were used only later in life,” Therrien says, “perhaps associated with reproductive behaviors like display or egg brooding.”12
Maniraptorans are very loosely defined as birds and “all dinosaurs closer to birds than to ornithomimids.”14 They are the “theropod dinosaurs that many paleontologists believe birds were derived from some 150 or so million years ago.”14 Ornithomimids are believed to have branched off of the dinosaur family tree just before maniraptorans. Genuine feathers on a Cretaceous ornithomimid would suggest that feathers (and wings to hold them) evolved earlier than previously thought. Therefore, Zelenitsky says, “What these specimens do is they fill a significant gap in the record of fossil feathers in the dinosaurs that are linked to birds. These specimens show the earliest occurrence of wings in this group of dinosaurs leading to birds.”7
Their artistic reconstruction notwithstanding, the team did not actually find real feathers. They found neither barbs nor central shafts (rachis). And the forelimb is only called “winglike” because of its presumptive (but missing) long feathers. Evolutionists online, debating the researchers’ interpretation of the bone marks as evidence “that adults had long wing feathers while juveniles didn’t,”15 have suggested the lack of barbs, while consistent with supposed early feather evolutionary stages, is inconsistent with pennaceous feathers.16 One (The Theropod Database) plainly calls “their oft-copied figure 4A/B [reproduced above] of the little unwinged individual and adult with ostrich-like wings possibly misleading.”15
So-called “filamentous feathers” (aka “dinofuzz”) are fossilized filaments lacking the normal anatomical features of feathers. Evolutionists, in their zeal to demonstrate that birds evolved from dinosaurs and that the amazingly complex modern feather evolved as a series of stepwise innovations, have defined these “filaments” as “feathers” or “protofeathers” and decided they must represent steps of the evolutionary process. Furthermore, they have to presume a function for these primordial structures that would give their owners a survival advantage so they could keep evolving.
So could the marks have been insertion points for real feathers? A more important question would be, were these ornithomimids only “bird mimics” (just dinosaurs), or were they really birds? The defining characteristics of the various categories are established to support the evolutionary beliefs about bird evolution. Calling a bird a dinosaur doesn’t make it one. Some “maniraptorans” had modern feathers and were really just birds, like the Microraptor we discussed last week17 and very likely at least some specimens commonly grouped with Oviraptors.13 As the “Theropod Database” writer notes, “the seemingly solid position of ornithomimosaurs outside Oviraptorosauria+Paraves isn't quite as definite as it seems. It's just that basically all recent coelurosaur matrices inherit the character bias and miscodings” of the classification schemes, adding, “So no surprise their topologies are all similar.”15 In other words, the manmade classification system and definitions create the relationships. Even the evolution-activist group National Center for Science Education admits that some so-called feathered dinosaurs, “In the cold light of day . . . seem most likely to be birds.”18
Given the lack of visible feathers, the data about these ornithomimids remains inconclusive. Without definitive feathers, they may just be dinosaurs. Or they may be extinct birds, descendants of the birds God made in the beginning. God made all kinds of birds on the 5th day of Creation week and land animals such as dinosaurs on the 6th. And nothing about this study demonstrates the evolution of feathers or the evolution of birds.
Molecular analysis suggests a common origin for animal vision.
All visual pigments share molecular similarities. The origin of that similarity has long been a subject of debate. Researchers from the National University of Ireland Maynooth and the University of Bristol report a computer analysis of all possible permutations of pigment similarities in various sorts of animals and humans. They report they have thus “reverse engineered” the pigments to their common ancestral molecule and so traced the evolution of vision.
This is a model of a cow’s rhodopsin molecule. The light-sensitive chromophore is depicted in red. The opsin molecule, shown as a series of helices, straddles the cell membrane seven times. Its change in configuration in response to the chromophore’s light absorption triggers a visual message. Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opsin
Visual pigments consist of an opsin protein and a light-sensitive chromophore. The opsin straddles a cell’s membrane seven times; the chromophore is locked within the opsin’s three-dimensional structure. When light strikes, the chromophore absorbs a photon and suddenly causes the opsin to change shape. The new shape triggers an electrochemical signal transmitting a visual message to the central nervous system.
Opsins differ in their amino acid sequences. Different opsins in the retinal cones of our eyes respond to differing wavelengths (and therefore colors) of light. Rhodopsin, found in our rods—the retinal structures sensitive to low levels of light—is a molecule consisting of an opsin and a retinene (derived from vitamin A) chromophore. When light strikes rhodopsin, a change in configuration produces a visual signal. Other light-sensitive opsins serve nonvisual functions, such as pupillary constriction and regulation of circadian rhythm.
Opsins differ, but organisms ranging from the simplest marine invertebrates (consisting of only two layers of cells) to humans utilize opsins to detect light. Radially symmetrical jellyfish have a neural net instead of a brain, but they utilize opsins too. Before this study, evolutionists generally believed the vast differences between brainy bilaterians (bilaterally symmetrical living things like mammals, fish, and birds) and brainless jellyfish were so vast that the opsins must have evolved more than once.
Dr. Davide Pisani and colleagues report that opsins only had to evolve once about 700 million years ago. The original, they say, was probably not visually effective. But thanks to 11 million years of duplications of its genetic blueprint, this primordial opsin acquired visual functions. It was passed on to the simplest invertebrates, to jellyfish-like animals, and to the most complex animals and humans, all from a common evolutionary ancestor.
“The great relevance of our study is that we traced the earliest origin of vision and we found that it originated only once in animals, Dr. Pisani explains. “This is an astonishing discovery because it implies that our study uncovered, in consequence, how and when vision evolved in humans.”
Dr. Pisani’s team used a computer analysis to sort through all the possible combinations of phylogenetic relationships and compare them with the similarities and differences in opsins and the genes that guide their production. However, their analysis does not demonstrate that vision evolved. Instead, they assumed that it evolved and statistically determined what molecular predecessor was the most likely ancestral chemical.
While mutations can cause gene duplication, the discovery of apparent gene duplication does not prove an ancestral gene randomly duplicated itself until it acquired novel functions. (See “Gene genesis” News to Note, November 3, 2012 for more information.) Furthermore, similar biomolecules and the genes that guide their formation are present in many organisms because they need to perform similar functions (like light-detection). They share not a common ancestor but a common Designer, the Creator described in the Bible. God designed all kinds of organisms fully equipped to survive in the world He made.
Can we explain and eradicate evil through evolution?
“When she was good she was very very good, and when she was bad she was horrid.” So says the nursery rhyme. “How can some people be so cruel?” people often ask. “What’s in it for me?” is the selfish little question that often pops to mind when we’re offered the opportunity to deprive ourselves of comfort or needs for a higher purpose. Yet people can also be remarkably self-sacrificing, sometimes even with apparently unselfish motives. What is the origin of our capacity for both good and evil?
Noting that philosophers have long debated these questions, the author of a feature in the November 7 issue of New Scientist, “Homo virtuous: The evolution of good and evil,” offers not only the evolutionary answer to the origin of good and evil but goes the extra mile in offering a hope for better tomorrow through applied evolutionary science.
“Today some of the most exciting ideas are coming from an understanding of our evolution,” Kate Douglas writes. “By understanding the kinds of environments that foster the saint rather than the sinner, we can try to create societies that promote our better nature. It’s not just a pipe dream. Some evolutionists are already putting their theories into practice.”
To better understand altruism, investigators for decades have devised laboratory games to quantitate human generosity. People often score high in the laboratory. However, “experience suggests that people behave somewhat differently in the messy maul of the real world.” Selfishness and cheating appear to flourish when people think they aren’t being watched, so does altruism even exist?
Douglas suggests it does but only if we “redefine virtue in biological terms. After all, altruism cannot be without benefit for the do-gooder, otherwise it could not have evolved. Working on this principle, evolutionary biologists have come up with a variety of explanations for human niceness.” Despite the paradox created by the principle that “natural selection helps those who help themselves,” evolutionists believe evolution must explain altruism.
Not surprisingly, the proposed evolutionary origins of “virtue” are all self-serving to one degree or another. Hunter-gatherers evolved to help their families because those who did were, “like bees in a hive,” more successful at “passing on more genes.”
People tend to be nice to those who might return the favor. After all, “It takes time and energy to help others, so evolution would have favoured people who made fewer of these costly mistakes [behaving self-sacrificially], unless the generosity provided benefits that outweighed the costs.”
Avoiding the judgmental eye of others is also a way of protecting yourself from both retaliation and gossip. After all, “Humans are incredibly nosy: we like nothing better than to watch those around us and then gossip about our insights to others. This is how reputations are made and destroyed.” Reputations matter because we tend to reap what we sow. Or as the author puts it, “Generosity, fairness and conscientiousness are universally valued and people seen to display them are rewarded—others like these individuals, want to do business with them and are more sexually attracted to them. So a good reputation can boost your chances of survival and reproduction.”
“Group selection,” the way a successful group enhances the overall survival of its members, is said to be a major evolutionary determinant of human nature. Popularized by E. O. Wilson, this notion is fairly controversial. (See News to Note, June 30, 2012 for more information.) On the negative side, our “seemingly innate desire to punish those who step out of line” keeps those who injure the group in check. And capital punishment “has made our species a little bit less evil by removing the most antisocial genes from the human gene pool.” On the positive side, many enjoy the feeling they have done something right, the proposed evolutionary origin of the conscience. And to add a materialistic gloss to the whole thing, oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain, is called by some “the key to moral behaviour” because it is produced during “feel-good activities” and is thought to have higher levels in generous caring people. Thus the proposed evolutionary origin of the conscience appears to have a cultural and a biological basis.
On balance, the evolutionary path to a better world depends on implementation of policies that help individuals see how they can get some personal benefit by habitually helping others. The author concludes, “It will be interesting to see how far evolutionary theory in action can bring out the best in us. What is not in doubt is that our worst side will remain. Evolution has made us both altruistic and selfish—good and evil—and we cannot be otherwise.”
As Christians, we have the Word of our Creator to tell us the truth about ourselves. All of us sin, have a sinful nature, and are capable of far worse evil than we’d like to admit. The selfish nature described in the article is part of the sinful nature humans have possessed ever since Adam rebelled. From the day Adam and Eve sinned, humans have chosen to look to their own wishes first and foremost. The sinful nature isn’t an evolutionary working out of our desire to survive and procreate but a manifestation of our rebellious spirit. Eve and then Adam thought, “What’s in it for me?” and chose to take a chance that the serpent’s “suggestion” was worthwhile. That’s not evolution; it’s just sin.
The origin of humanity’s “dark side” requires we look no further than Genesis chapter 3. When Eve responded to Satan’s question, “Yea, hath God said?” by doubting God’s Word, when Adam and Eve rebelled against the Creator—humans acquired a sinful nature, a “dark nature” that was not part of the original “very good” creation. Our problem is sin, not our evolutionary past. Popularizing “prosocial” behavior will not cure our sin problem, as even the writer admits. The real answer is only found in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
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