1. LiveScience: “Nut-Cracking Monkeys Show Humanlike Skills

Bearded capuchin monkeys bash nuts with skill.

Bearded capuchin monkeys are bright little creatures, indicating that chimpanzees and crows don’t have the market cornered on animal intelligence. To crack palm nuts, these monkeys can choose and use suitable tools as anvils and hammers with great skill.

The monkeys select boulders and logs with little pits to hold their nuts steady and choose stones that make the best hammers. These skills have been reported by the same researchers previously.1 The monkeys also, according to the latest report, manipulate the palm nuts into the most stable position in the pit before striking them. They do this by knocking the nuts rapidly on the anvil’s pit, determining the orientation that leaves the nut motionless with the flattest surface upward. (The researchers suspect they combine tactile and auditory clues to do this.) The monkeys varied in skill, but the eight monkeys that “volunteered” for the project (states the article)—by collecting the offered palm nuts and smashing at least ten for the video—achieved 71–94% accuracy. The 14 blindfolded human volunteers did about as well by feeling the pits and the nuts.2 You may watch a monkey do this in a short video at www.livescience.com.

capuchin This monkey has placed the palm nut in a pit on the log-anvil such that the flattest surface is facing upward and the most rounded portions of the irregular shape are stabilized against the sides of the pit. The monkeys, which are wild but accustomed to humans, were supplied with stones placed beside the log anvils for this study. Image: original from Barth Wright through www.plosone.org

pollenTo determine whether the monkeys had indeed positioned the irregularly shaped palm nuts in the most stable position, researchers had previously marked the nuts. After removing the outer mesocarp, as monkeys themselves do before cracking, they rolled them on the floor to determine the flattest surface and marked it. Image: Dorothy Fragaszy through www.plosone.org

Many animals demonstrate intelligence, often in their ability to choose and use tools purposefully. Chimps have been observed to make sharp spears from sticks to catch their bushbaby neighbors for a meal.3 Crows have been observed using a series of progressively longer tools to get what they want from a bottle.4 And rooks have figured out how to plunk stones into a bottle with a floating morsel to raise the water level and bring it within reach.4

Evolutionists generally consider these demonstrations to be little glimpses into the kinds of leaps our ape-like ancestors must have made to become human. After all, in their worldview, all that exists including human intelligence must have evolved through naturalistic processes. And Darwin himself wrote in The Descent of Man that “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, is one of degree and not kind.”5

Thus even animals not considered to be in the evolutionary line that presumably produced humans are counted as evolutionary examples of how we got to be so bright. But is this reasonable?

Given that no kind of animal has ever been observed evolving into any new more complex kind of animal, and furthermore that no mechanism for such a transition has ever been discovered, it is not scientifically reasonable to assume that animal intelligence is a window into our past. Yet this sort of thinking has become so prevalent that even some evolutionists have questioned overblown interpretations of animal cleverness, as we discussed in our coverage of “Killjoys Challenge Claims of Clever Animals.”6

Biblical history tells us that God made man and woman in His image (Genesis 1:26–27). And while humans and animals have many similarities, being made in God’s image embodies many unique spiritual and mental attributes. Unlike animals, humans are able to express and understand original abstract thoughts through language. Humans generate symbolic language, whereas animal communication—as amazing as it often is—lacks the abstract symbolism, awareness, insight, and creativity evident in human speech.

Similarly, our Creator God has endowed many animals with the intelligence to sensibly use a sequence of tools to get what they need. But the mental ability to conceive of a three-dimensional design for a tool that might be needed at some point in the future rather than for an immediate need, gather the necessary raw materials and equipment, and use those tools to produce something brand new—an ordinary activity for humans—is a far cry from the sort of tool use we see in animals, clever as they are.

This author is truly impressed when I see the sorts of abilities that some animals demonstrate, whether rescuing lost hikers, herding sheep, cracking nuts, or learning to point to a banana picture to get one. I am also impressed when my dog manipulates my affections to get what he wants. But neither my dog’s ability to be sneaky nor the monkeys’ skill with tools shows how we became human or how any animal ever could.

For more information:

2. ScienceDaily: “Songbirds’ Brains Coordinate Singing With Intricate Timing

Bird’s brain is no “birdbrain” but fine-tunes songs on-the-go.

Though a bird doesn’t have vocal cords like humans, it has a syrinx at the forked junction of its trachea. By adjusting the tension in muscles controlling the rings of cartilage and the membranes in the syrinx as well as regulating air movement from each airway, the bird produces distinctive songs. You might think that studying how a bird controls its songs would be as easy as matching musical notes to neurons firing in the brain, but it’s not. Researchers have tried.

University of Chicago professor Daniel Margoliash’s team, in developing an effective way to match the movements that produce birdsong to the neurons in the brain and to the songs themselves, has discovered that the zebra finch’s brain is able to evaluate and fine-tune songs even while it sings.

finchThe zebra finch is a favorite for birdsong research. Typically only the male sings. Areas of the brain known to be related to birdsong are considerably more developed in the male, and the recent study measured the activity of specific neurons while the birds sang and while they listened to their own songs while sleeping. Image: male zebra finch from www.burleylab.org

syrinxA bird’s syrinx at the bifurcation of its trachea is the source of its songs. Sound is produced as air passes by the vibrating cartilaginous pessalus (4) and walls of the syrinx (5) and (6). Muscles change the tension in these walls as well as the diameter of the bronchial openings to modulate the sound. (In the diagram, small green ovals mark cartilaginous rings surrounding these air pathways.) Some songbirds can even produce two songs at once by separately regulating the airflow from each lung.7 Image: en.wikipedia.org

birdbrainThe centers of neuronal activity required to learn and produce birdsong are shown in this model. HVC (previously known as the higher vocal center) is involved in both learning and singing. New research shows that the HVC also instantaneously compares the expected song and the corresponding muscle movements to the song the bird is singing, allowing for feedback and correction. Image: from Nottebohm, F. (2005). “The Neural Basis of Birdsong,” PLoS Biology 3(5): e164. at www.plosbiology.org

Margoliash’s team measured neuronal activity at key places in the finches’ brains while they sang. Replaying the songs while the birds slept, they determined which neurons fired in recognition. A bird’s neurons respond specifically to his own songs.8 “It is amazing that such small units of movements are encoded, and so precisely, at the level of the forebrain,” says Margoliash.

Then the team determined which specific muscle movements controlling the syrinx can physically produce each song and generated a synthetic song using their model. They tested the synthetic song by playing it to a sleeping bird. When the bird’s neurons responded, they figured they had the model correct.

The surprising finding was the discovery that the HVC (higher vocal center) in a bird’s brain actually fires almost simultaneously with the bird’s own song production. There is not sufficient time for these neuronal signals to cause movement at the syrinx. Therefore, the researchers believe the HVC is, in essence, rehearsing what it expects to hear—and the corresponding muscular signals—for comparison with the song the bird is actually singing.9 This sort of feedback provides a continuous mechanism to correct the songs.

Athletes and musicians are particularly aware of the importance of “muscle memory.” A complex series of intricate motions, performed correctly over and over again, seems to embed itself in the brain or the fingers as a unit. But determining just how that occurs, in terms of mapping the activities of the brain, is not so easy. Likewise, speech disorders can be very difficult to evaluate because it is difficult to relate the symptoms—like aphasia after a stroke or stuttering—to the precise problems in the brain. Insights from Margolias’s study of birdsong production may shed light on these complexities of human functionality.

“It’s difficult to find a natural framework with which to analyze the activity of single neurons. The bird study provided us a perfect opportunity,” explains Margolias. “A big question in muscle control is how the motor system organizes the dynamics of movement. Movements like reaching or grasping are difficult to study because they entail many variables, such as the angles of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers; the forces of many muscles; and how these change over time. With all this complexity, it has been difficult to determine which of the many variables that describe movements are the ones that are represented in the brain and used to control movements.”

Neuroanatomists consider several areas of a bird’s song-learning and song-production neural pathways to be homologous with areas in the human brain.10 The discovery that finches learn the detailed movements required to refine their songs, remember and recognize what they’ve learned, and “play” a real-time “tape” of the expected song and its associated movements while it sings suggests that the bird model may be useful in gaining insights into human speech disorders.

But does that mean that these systems randomly evolved along similar lines? Or that they evolved at all? No. (And these researchers in their study do not make any such claim. Next week we will take a look at another recent study of human speech that does leap to such conclusions.)  What we see here is that thanks to our common Designer, animals and man possess many common design features. This neuroanatomical complexity in finches may help sort out human performance issues, thanks to common design, not to evolution.

3. ScienceDaily: “Human Y Chromosome Much Older Than Previously Thought

South Carolina man’s DNA tells an ancient story.

When a relative of Albert Perry, an African-American man in South Carolina (now recently deceased), decided to send his DNA sample to the National Geographic Genographic Project, she created quite a stir in the world’s genomic databases. Mr. Perry’s Y-chromosome didn’t match any of the data on file. Family Tree DNA took up the search for Mr. Perry’s ancestral roots, and their surprising discoveries and conclusions have just been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Michael Hammer, whose laboratory sorted through the mystery, says, “The most striking feature of this research is that a consumer genetic testing company identified a lineage that didn't fit anywhere on the existing Y chromosome tree, even though the tree had been constructed based on perhaps a half-million individuals or more. Nobody expected to find anything like this.”

The normal male human chromosomes include one X (left) and one Y chromosome, which is much smaller. Only males have the Y chromosome. Because it is only inherited from the father, it is useful for tracking ancestral relationships. A 240,000 base portion of Mr. Perry’s Y-chromosome was compared to the database that has been accumulating in recent years and found to reflect a rare lineage. Image courtesy of University of Arizona through www.sciencedaily.com

This family tree illustrates the reason mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes are useful for tracing ancestry. Only males have Y chromosomes, and being unmixed with DNA from the mother, the mutation pattern on the Y chromosome can be matched with similar patterns in other people whose DNA happens to be in the database. In this way, people can be grouped according to their shared common ancestors. Similarly, even though everyone has mitochondrial DNA, it is passed on through the mother, so its mutation patterns can also be traced. But the effort to determine how long ago people in a particular group (like Mr. Perry and the Mbo men from Cameroon) shared a common ancestor is fraught with many unverifiable assumptions and therefore flawed. Image credit: saypeople.com

The Y-chromosome is the easiest-to-track portion of men’s genomes since it is only passed on through males without any mixing of parental genes. (Mitochondrial DNA, similarly, is the easiest to track in women, as it is passed on through daughters.) Over time, chromosomes mutate quite a bit, and most of those mutations don’t hurt anything. But those point mutations do produce unique combinations that can be used to trace ancestral relationships and sometimes even geographical origins.

Further research eventually tracked Mr. Perry’s unusual combination of genetic variants to the Mbo people of western Cameroon in sub-Saharan Africa. “The sample matched the Y chromosome DNA of 11 men, who all came from a very small region of western Cameroon,” explains Hammer. “And the sequences of those individuals are variable, so it's not like they all descended from the same grandfather.”

Having discovered that Mr. Perry’s roots stretched back to a place not widely represented in genetic databases, the next question was to ask what sort of people were they? Why are they so minimally represented in the modern gene pool? Can we know how far back we would have to go to find the common ancestor of Mr. Perry and these Mbo men? And from the evolutionary point of view, of course, what are the implications for humanity’s origins?

First of all, it is important to note that all of the DNA in question is ordinary human DNA, not some sort of sub-human hybrid or transition—which of course never existed, we creationists argue. But researchers believe, on the basis of their molecular clock calculations, that the lineage of Mr. Perry and these eleven Mbo men reaches back too far to be from the anatomically modern humans in the fossil record. They therefore propose that some sort of genetic contribution from archaic humans is present in the DNA.

Evolutionists currently estimate that Neanderthals diverged from ancestral humans about 300,000 years ago and that anatomically modern humans then evolved about 195,000 years ago. This belief is based on radiometric dating of the rock layers near to sites where anatomically modern human fossils are found. But calculations based on Mr. Perry’s Y-chromosome suggest his ancestors were much older. Hammer says, “Our analysis indicates this lineage diverged from previously known Y chromosomes about 338,000 ago, a time when anatomically modern humans had not yet evolved. This pushes back the time the last common Y chromosome ancestor lived by almost 70 percent.”

Since mutations accumulate over time, the more time elapsed since people groups shared a common ancestor should generally be reflected in greater genetic diversity. Previously, data on DNA diversity has suggested that people containing the most diverse genetic material hail from other regions in Africa.

Finding the unusual Y-chromosome represented among the Mbo, Hammer says, “was surprising because previously the most diverged branches of the Y chromosome were found in traditional hunter-gatherer populations such as Pygmies and the click-speaking KhoeSan, who are considered to be the most diverged human populations living today. (See News to Note, September 29, 2012 and News to Note, August 11, 2012 for more about them.)

Despite the common designation of the oldest last common ancestor of various groups as “mitochondrial Eve” or “Y chromosome Adam,” Hammer points out that the data suggests neither anything biblical nor any single ancestral human. “There has been too much emphasis on this in the past,” he says. “It is a misconception that the genealogy of a single genetic region reflects population divergence [from a single pair of people]. Instead, our results suggest that there are pockets of genetically isolated communities that together preserve a great deal of human diversity.”

Instead, the molecular clock conclusions imply that Perry’s ancestors may have included archaic humans who are now extinct. And in 2011, human fossils combining modern and “unexpectedly archaic features”11 were found in the Nigerian village of Iwo Eleru. Hammer says, “The Cameroon village with an unusual genetic signature is right on the border with Nigeria, and Iwo Eleru is not too far away.”11 He adds, “It is likely that other divergent lineages will be found, whether in Africa or among African-Americans in the U.S. and that some of these may further increase the age of the Y chromosome tree.”

So is this proof that humans evolved earlier than thought, or even that they evolved at all? No. Molecular clock calculations appear authoritative and factual, but they are only as good as the standard by which they are calibrated. And they are calibrated using unverifiable assumptions about the unobservable untestable past.

Mutation rates, for instance, must be constant for clock conclusions to be valid. Even in the present, that assumption has already been disproven in humans (as discussed in News to Note, March 17, 2012 and News to Note, June 18, 2011), and there is no way to observe past mutation rates.

Furthermore, molecular clock predictions are built upon a statistical house of cards, attempting to predict how long evolution would take if it could happen and if mutation rates were known to be stable. And human molecular clocks, in particular, rely heavily on the assumption that chimps and humans share an ape-like ancestor. The expected time for differences to diverge from this hypothetical ape-like ancestor to produce modern human and chimp DNA is often used to calibrate the data.

As to the statistical methods at the heart of molecular clock dating, evolutionary authors summed up the problems well in a 2004 article in Trends in Genetics. They wrote, “In this article, we document the manner in which a calibration point that is both inaccurate and inexact—and in many instances inapplicable and irrelevant—has been used to produce an exhaustive evolutionary timeline that is enticing but totally imaginary.” Therefore, they write, “Despite their allure, we must sadly conclude that all divergence estimates discussed here are without merit. Our advice to the reader is: whenever you see a time estimate in the evolutionary literature, demand uncertainty.”12

The assumptions on which the molecular clock dating of human origins is based are as unverifiable and flawed as those of radiometric dating. Therefore, while Mr. Perry clearly has a unique heritage, we reject the vast age estimates for his lineage.

“Creationists and most evolutionists believe that at some point people migrated out from some central location,” explains Dr. Georgia Purdom, molecular geneticist with Answers in Genesis. “When that occurred is the issue. The evolutionists’ time frame is wrong, and that’s because their assumptions are wrong.”

But this information is actually quite exciting in another way. Mr. Perry’s ancestral roots, now known to reach back to the same place as those of a few men in Cameroon, are evidence of the diversity we see as a result of the dispersion from the Tower of Babel. The rare DNA markers in this lineage are a record of some of the people who migrated out from there, human beings whose individual life stories are lost in roughly 4,000 years of history but who were just as human as we are. Mr. Perry’s DNA is therefore a link to the human diversity we all share, having all descended from Noah’s family.

4. “The Bible – Night One review. . .” and “First-Person: History Channel begets a (good) Bible series

History Channel reports 27 million tuned in . . . so what next?

The Bible miniseries premiered last Sunday night on the History Channel, reportedly the top cable telecast so far this year. Most reviews have been fairly positive, despite surprise expressed by many that a History Channel program would be Bible-friendly. Some Christians, however, raise significant concerns.

The series is a ten-hour, five-episode adaptation of the historical portions of the Bible intended to appeal to the biblically illiterate, the biblically bored, the biblically acquainted, and the biblically educated. Many religious leaders and the producers hope the docudrama will get many people interested in the Bible itself. Assuming that many of the 27 million viewers were not in the “the biblically educated” category, how should Christians now evaluate what they’ve seen? How should Christians follow up with their non-believing friends?

Scripture records that when the Apostle Paul was spreading the gospel through the Balkan peninsula, the people in Berea were wiser than those of Thessalonica because they responded to Paul’s message—that Jesus Christ was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament—by searching the Scriptures daily to see whether the things Paul preached were true (Acts 17:10–11).

We need to be “Berean” about this docudrama. A ten-hour series cannot convey all of the 4,100 years of history covered in the Bible, much less explain the doctrinal significance of all that history. And to the astute student of the Bible, most omissions are painful due to the important lessons embodied in them. Furthermore, this series, like many “Bible movies”—even widely regarded classics like Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments13—is not error-free. Thus the “Berean” response to this movie—whether you know your Bible well or not—is to read, re-read, study, and compare the movie to actual Scripture.

What then? What should we do with our knowledge of the discrepancies we discover? What do we do when an event dear to our own spiritual growth is missing or not presented in a way that explains its doctrinal significance? Certainly our non-believing friends will not be helped by indignant anger or arrogance as we display our superior biblical knowledge.

Instead, we can use the movie to involve others in fruitful discussions of the Scriptures. But if a particular omission grates on us, we should adjust our attitude to fit the commands in Colossians 4:5–6—“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

Armed with a gracious attitude, a thorough understanding of Scripture, and a desire to have others know Jesus Christ as their Savior and the Lord of their lives, we should then be prepared to make use of the docudrama’s popularity to reach people with the actual Word of God. As Christian radio host Kathleen Benfield suggested during her WSHO talk show The Current Word this week, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 3:6–8, the miniseries has planted the plot of the Bible in the minds of many, so it’s time for Christian people to water the seed sown while praying for God to work in people’s hearts to give the increase.

Last Monday’s web article14 evaluating the entire 10-hour series mentioned its strongest point was its treatment of the Bible’s history as real history from the very first verse. Creation took six days, Adam emerged from the dust of the ground as a real human, the Fall into sin was a literal event that inaugurated all the evil in the heart of man and led to the Flood judgment, the Flood was global, and the Ark was realistic. Miracles were real miracles, the Red Sea was a real sea, and the parting of the Red Sea matched the biblical description reasonably well. Overall, this author gave the series shown on a secular network high marks for its potential to help people see how the coming of Christ fits into events many people think of as disjointed Bible stories. In essence, though the series skips vast segments of biblical history lightly mentioned in the narration in order to concentrate on a few selected events and people, it gives a reasonable overview of the plot of the Bible.

Now is time to take a few minutes to point out a few concerns most biblically astute viewers have already noticed in the first installment. (We’ll plan to do the same each week here in News to Note, concluding the Saturday after the series’ Resurrection Day conclusion.) This should not be considered either an exhaustive listing or nitpicking—just an effort to highlight things viewers should review in God’s Word in order to be wisely “Berean.”

The first episode takes us from Creation through some historical high points and leaves us poised with Joshua about to enter the Promised Land. Though Adam and Eve are treated as historical people, their light-colored skin doesn’t account for the more middle-brown color they must have had in order for our gene pool to produce all the skin shades we have today.

It’s doubtful the Ark was drippy as depicted, and the film’s animals were the ordinary species we see today, rather than a more “created kinds” assortment.15 And unlike the rainbow in the film, the biblical rainbow didn’t show up until after Noah’s family left the Ark, as a sign of God’s promise to never destroy the earth again by Flood (Genesis 9:12–17).

After the Flood, the movie shows the beginning of God’s plan to “restore the relationship between God and humanity,” according to the narrator, pointing ahead to Jesus Christ. The focus of the remainder of episode one is therefore on Abraham and Moses. Thus the scattering of people from the Tower of Babel—the basis for our many languages and the isolation of people groups—is skipped. The story of Lot moving to Sodom is in the movie, but Sodom’s true character, as described in the Bible, is missing. Scripture indicates that the problem with Sodom was rampant homosexual behavior, a concept noticeably missing in the film.

Abraham’s test—when God told him to sacrifice Isaac—though prominent loses some important elements. In particular, Isaac, being much too young, was understandably resistant to the idea of being sacrificed and pleading for his life. From a biblical timeline, however, we know that Isaac was considerably older and could have never been placed on the altar by his elderly father had he not cooperated. Thus, by his implied willingness to be sacrificed, Isaac symbolizes Jesus Christ, who two thousand years later did sacrifice Himself for our sins. Abraham also had faith that God would restore Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17–19 and Genesis 22:5) to fulfill His promise to provide a blessing to all people. When God provides a substitute for Isaac, the film substitutes a standing lamb for the substitutionary ram caught in the thicket by its horns (Genesis 22:13). Its resemblance to lambs seen in later episodes and its appearance with the hooded actor whose voice obviously matches the voice of Christ (as seen in previews) does, however, visually demonstrate the sacrifice that foreshadows Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

This Moses, like the Charlton Heston version in the Ten Commandments, doesn’t kill the Egyptian in secret (Exodus 2:11–15) and later seems to have forgotten that he wasn’t really eloquent (Exodus 4:10). Moses also seemed extremely willing to charge forth in God’s service to free his people. The biblical Moses, however, took a good deal of convincing (Exodus 4:1–17). As the Yul Brynner pharaoh in the Ten Commandments, this pharaoh doesn’t drown, as Psalm 136:15 implies. The parting of the Red Sea, like that in the Ten Commandments, was cinematically accelerated (Exodus 14:21). And I would have loved to have heard this eloquent Moses stand by the Red Sea and make the analogy to salvation in Christ clear (1 Corinthians 10:1–4) by proclaiming, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today” (Exodus 14:13).

Finally, back in Egypt we saw the Passover lambs’ blood smeared over the doors. Sadly, the narrator missed this opportunity to explain the picture of salvation from the deadly sin-debt that Passover represents. Later in the series (AiG has been sent all ten hours to preview), when we reach the Crucifixion, Christ’s role as the perfect Passover sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7) is indicated by a countdown, but the narration could have made this powerful point at the first Passover. Thus, while Adam’s original sin appears in Noah’s explanation for the world’s evil during the opening Ark scene, the fact that the blessing for all people that God is preparing through Abraham’s descendants is to be a sacrifice for man’s sin is not made plain.

Several problems mentioned here weaken the film’s potential to present the Gospel message on its own. Even in biblical events that paint pictures of God’s justice and mercy to be later fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice, the film often misses the chance to make that connection clear.

The genuineness of the Bible’s history from Creation to Christ, the corruption and failure of men, and the necessity of trusting God to fulfill His promises come through in the film, but the fact that we need to trust God to take care of our sin problem—while pictorially depicted in repeated sacrifices (Hebrews 10:1–4) leading to the Lamb of God’s crucifixion in a few weeks—is not explained well. That omission could be due to the series’ producers meeting a standard set by the History Channel not to proselytize too heavily. As Christians therefore, we need to be prepared to fill in the gaps. According to 2 Timothy 3:16–17, our authoritative and effective source for our explanation is the Word of God. Now that the plot has been presented, we should prepare ourselves to help viewers—children, unbelievers, and fellow believers—apply what they’ve seen to their spiritual benefit, for faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

Rating note regarding children: The filmmakers said the film should be considered PG-13 in terms of violence. Furthermore, while there is no nudity, viewers will see Hagar’s and (in a later episode) Bathsheba’s bare backs and will not fail to grasp the nature of their activities.

5. Christian Post: “Wildlife Documentaries Should Show More Gay Sex, Academic Study Says

Wildlife documentaries are too family friendly, complains UK academic.

What’s wrong with the BBC’s wildlife documentaries hosted by the revered TV personality David Attenborough? Well, according to Brett Mills, the head of the School of Film, Television and Media at the University of East Anglia in Norfolk, U.K., they should show more homosexual animal activity. His article “The animals went in two by two: Heteronormativity in television wildlife documentaries” assessing the content of three popular BBC wildlife programs was just published in the European Journal of Cultural Studies.

Mills opens with the emotionally compelling example of a couple of penguins that share nurturing duties for their chick in the harsh Antarctic, featured in the BBC program Life in the Freezer. He complains that interpretative voiceovers portraying such heterosexual monogamous parenting behavior as normal and important for animal survival are deceptive and harmful to human society. Why? Because “how such activities are repeatedly represented draw on normalized human notions of such behavior.” He says to make “sense of what animals do [voiceovers] must always ‘shape nature according to specific cultural values.’”16 Yet because there is more diversity in animal behavior than such shows admit, he contends, the programs falsify the truly normal and natural variations by which humans should measure their morality, if they are going to use such anthropomorphic standards.

“While equating non-human social structures with those of humans is always problematic,” Mills writes, “it is unsurprising that humans turn to animal behaviour for reassurance in these matters.” Many people seek solace in the “naturalness” of heterosexual animal mates caring for their young, he indicates, so he maintains it is important to show television viewers that both homosexual and “polygamous” animal behaviors are just as “natural.”17

Mills writes that typical wildlife documentary narration is guilty of “heterosexual anthropomorphizing”17 But it isn’t just that wildlife documentaries ignore the claim that “most non-human species have complex and changeable forms of sexual activity.”17 The main problem is that “animal behavior is commonly used as evidence for ‘natural’ forms of human behavior.” And he is of course opposed to any suggestion that homosexual human behavior is wrong or unnatural.

The claim that homosexual behavior is common and natural among animals was a key argument in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case in which the United States Supreme Court made it unconstitutional to punish homosexual behavior or to pass laws based on morality. Biologist Bruce Bagemihl’s book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity was cited as evidence in that case. Mills draws heavily on Bagemihl’s book. Condemning the tendency of scientists and society to consider animal reproduction to be of primary importance and alternative behavior as abnormal, Bagemihl writes, “The traditional view of the animal kingdom [is] what one might call the Noah’s ark view”18 with animals paired up for reproductive purpose.

Commenting on Brent Mills’s complaints, executive editor David Mills of First Things, a publication of The Institute on Religion and Public Life, commented that Dr. Mills and his sources err by presupposing that anything “natural” is “good.” David Mills writes, “Their understanding of the Fall was deficient, and their identification of ‘natural’ confused a way of thinking about who we really are and how we ought to act, with ‘natural’ meaning the life we observe in nature. Using that logic, homosexual activists now invoke these animals as a moral argument for the good of human homosexuality.”19

David Mills goes on to quote Gregory Laughlin of Samford University School of Law as he cites other “natural” behaviors that human society should not emulate: “Many animals have multiple sex partners, and the male is often uninvolved in caring for his offspring. Does that make adultery, promiscuity, and paternal abandonment ‘natural’ and, therefore, licit among humans? Animals go into a frenzy when fed, pushing others out of the way and even trampling others to get to the food. Does that make greed, gluttony, covetousness, and theft ‘natural’ and, therefore, licit among humans?”19

The Bible tells us that much of creation changed as a result of man’s sin entering the world. Therefore, just as animal behavior became violent, so other animal behavior likely changed considerably from the behavior Adam witnessed in Eden. David Mills’s comments are certainly correct, but we should go one step further. Even if we only considered nonviolent animals whose sexual behaviors might be relatively unchanged, we err from the very foundation if we try to judge human morality on the basis of how animals behave. Animals were not made in the image of God. Human beings were. Animals bear no moral responsibility or sin guilt. Humans do.

Ascribing human moral standards to animals reinforces the unbiblical concept that humans are merely highly evolved animals. Thus, while most of us enjoy wildlife documentaries full of anthropomorphic representations of animal analogues of fuzzy warm family values, we err if we look to any animals to figure out what is normal and right for people to do. And that is the case whether we look at family friendly animal behavior or any other kind. God our Creator has the authority to define moral standards for us, and He has provided them in the Bible and reinforced them in our conscience. But we cannot determine them from studying the sin-cursed natural world of animals.

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • On the last night of February, a sinkhole opened beneath the bedroom of a Florida man and tragically snatched him from his family. His body could not be recovered from the massive hole. We seem to hear about a lot of sinkholes in Florida, but most don’t take lives like this. There are actually other hotspots in the United States and around the world. (You may view a photo gallery of sinkholes from all over the world at www.cbsnews.com) So what causes the ground to suddenly give way like that? Read Dr. Andrew Snelling’s article discussing the origin of sinkholes at The Florida Sinkhole Tragedy.
  • One of the giants of the biblical inerrancy movement, the diminutive but tenacious Dr. Duane T. Gish, went to be with the Lord this past Wednesday. Dr. Gish was recognized as one of the great defenders of the Bible of the past fifty years, best witnessed in his more than 300 public debates with evolutionists and often held before jeering crowds. Dr. Gish, a biochemist, taught at Cornell University Medical College and was a research associate at Berkeley. He helped form the Creation Research Society in 1963. Dr. Gish wrote his creationist classic Evolution: The Fossils say No, which examined alleged evolutionary transitional forms (including the “ape-men”), while serving as vice president of the Institute for Creation Research. He is survived by wife Lolly, four children, and several grandchildren, and also by countless people globally who were touched by his speaking and writing ministry. Those who are active and effective in creation science and apologetics today stand on the shoulders of giants like Dr. Gish. Please read a personal tribute written by two who knew him well, Mark Looy and Ken Ham.
  • Arkansas's legislature just passed the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation in the country, overriding the governor's veto. And they used the very language of Roe v. Wade to do it. Check back next weekend as we discuss the details and the fallout of this late-breaking story.

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Footnotes

  1. www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0056182 and www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347210004367 Back
  2. www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0056182 Back
  3. Tools of Evolution and news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6387611.stm Back
  4. News to Note, August 8, 2009 Back (1) Back (2)
  5. Chapter 3, page 101 of Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, D. Appleton and company, 1872. Back
  6. News to Note, April 7, 2012 Back
  7. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_call Back
  8. “Interestingly, when a bird listens to playback of its own song, the same HVC neurons have responses that are very similar in timing and structure to their responses during singing, and that are highly selective for the bird’s own song (BOS). In zebra finches . . . the strongest and most selective auditory responses are recorded in sleeping birds.” from A. Amador et al., “Elemental gesture dynamics are encoded by song premotor cortical neurons,” Nature doi: 10.1038/nature11967. Back
  9. A. Amador et al., “Elemental gesture dynamics are encoded by song premotor cortical neurons,” Nature doi: 10.1038/nature11967 Back
  10. You may learn more about this at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_vocalization. Back
  11. www.newscientist.com/article/dn23240-the-father-of-all-men-is-340000-years-old.html Back (1) Back (2)
  12. Dan Graur and William Martin, “Reading the Entrails of Chickens: Molecular Timescales of Evolution and the Illusion of Precision,” Trends in Genetics 20 (2004): 80–86, www.molevol.de/publications/117.pdf Back
  13. www.deseretnews.com/article/700019738/The-Ten-Commandments-is-Hollywoods-version-of-biblical-story.html?pg=all Back
  14. The Bible on the History Channel: A Review Back
  15. See Determining the Ark Kinds and Mammalian Ark Kinds—Appendices and References to see what we mean by “created kinds assortment.” Back
  16. Emphasis in original. Mills is quoting from N.L. Elliot (2001) Signs of anthropomorphism: The case of natural history television documentaries. Social Semiotics 11, no. 3 (2001): 290 in his article, “The animals went in two by two: Heteronormativity in television wildlife documentaries,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16 (February 2013): 100–114. Back
  17. B. Mills, “The animals went in two by two: Heteronormativity in television wildlife documentaries,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16 (February 2013): 100–114. Back (1) Back (2) Back (3)
  18. Page 36 of Bagemihl B. (1999) Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. London: Profile Books. Cited in  B. Mills, “The animals went in two by two: Heteronormativity in television wildlife documentaries,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16 (February 2013): 100–114. Back
  19. www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/02/20/the-gay-animals-publicist Back (1) Back (2)