Curiosity finally scratches the surface.
The Mars rover Curiosity made history on February 8 by drilling 2 ½ inches into the Martian surface—deeper than any robot there has previously drilled—and this week NASA announced the results of the analysis of the material it dug up. The arm-mounted hammering drill obtained about a tablespoon of gray powdered rock from the John Klein outcrop. NASA officials announced at a press conference Tuesday that the powder “shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.” Michael Meyer, who leads the Mars Exploration Program, says, “A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment. From what we know now, the answer is yes.”
Curiosity drilled to a depth of 2 ½ inches at John Klein Rock. Analysis of the sample reveals clay minerals consistent with past exposure to water, apparently not as acidic or salty as that suggested by samples obtained from other regions by other Martian rovers. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU through www.space.com
Analysis shows the material contains fine-grained clay consistent with previous exposure to non-acidic, non-salty water. Other Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, had found evidence of previous exposure to liquid water under acidic or salty conditions unfavorable to life. “We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably — if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,” says Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, who adds that it is not known how long ago this liquid water was present.
“The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms,” explains Paul Mahaffy, the principal “Sample Analysis at Mars” (SAM) investigator at Goddard Space Flight Center. Grotzinger explains, “What we have learned in the last 20 years of modern microbiology is that very primitive organisms, they can derive energy just by feeding on rocks.”1
Elements in the sample include sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon.1 These common elements are found in living organisms, NASA officials pointed out in their announcement. Two simple carbon-containing compounds (chloromethane and dichloromethane) have also been found, but there is a question of whether they are residual contaminants and await confirmation. No complex organic molecules, such as amino acids from which proteins are built, have been found, though even those would not be definitive evidence that life ever existed on Mars, since such compounds are also found in the absence of life.
The scientists hasten to point out that no evidence of life, past or present, has actually been found. Furthermore, the equipment on Curiosity is not designed to detect living organisms.
So why all the excitement? As we’ve discussed recently (News to Note, February 23, 2013), it is an article of faith among evolutionists that given liquid water, a few chemicals, and sufficient time, life can evolve through natural processes. Yet even on earth where we can make much more direct and abundant observations, no evidence that life can evolve from non-living substrates through random natural processes has ever been found. And the likelihood that the Martian environment may have once been different than it is today does not demonstrate that the solar system formed billions of years ago.
If evidence of microbial life—past or present—on Mars is eventually found, evolutionists will of course claim such life as evidence for evolution. But in reality, such a finding would simply be evidence that life is (or once was) there, not proof of that life’s origins. The Bible does not say whether God created any life on other planets, but the Bible does tell us God created all life on earth during the first six days of Creation week, the same week in which He created the rest of the universe, about 6,000 years ago. Discovery of evidence that a “habitable” environment containing liquid water once existed on Mars or even life itself would neither disprove nor undermine biblical truth.
Camel humps may have been the key to Arctic survival for ancient camels.
The discovery of a camel fossil in the high Arctic is changing evolutionary ideas about the camel’s geographic origins. Ellesmere Island, in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago west of northern Greenland, yielded up some fragmentary pieces of fossilized bone in 2006. Researchers announced this week that the fragments from mid-Pliocene sediments belonged to a giant camel.
“This completely changes how we think about the evolution of Paracamelus, which is the form that gave rise to the modern camel,” says lead author of the Nature Communications report, Natalia Rybczynski. Collagen fingerprinting reveals remarkable similarity to modern dromedary camels.
Today, camels are native to arid regions from northern Africa to Asia. Their close cousins—llamas and alpacas—are native to South America. (A recently published creation scientist’s analysis of animal kinds concurs that camels and these humpless South American animals are varieties of the same created kind.2)
The sediments associated with the fragments suggest this animal’s habitat consisted of forests and peat-bogs. Beaver, horse, bear, rabbit, and tiny deer fossils are also found within about six miles of the site. Though soft tissue like humps are not ordinarily preserved in the fossil record, the modern camel hump is a fat-filled structure that would have greatly facilitated the survival of this large herbivorous animal through Arctic winter darkness.
Though only fragments were recovered, digital imaging reconstructed them as a tibia with anatomical characteristics typical of a massive hoofed mammal. A collagen “fingerprinting” technique was able to match collagen recovered from the bone—likely preserved so well because of the cold and a coating of iron minerals, Rybczynski suspects—to the collagen variations seen in modern dromedary camels. The collagen also matched that of a giant camel fossil discovered in 2011 in the Yukon, more than 1,200 miles away and over 700 miles to the south. In fact, the peptide markers on the collagen matched the Yukon fossil and the modern dromedary better than the two modern camel species match each other.3 Comparison of the fragments to a modern dromedary camel tibia suggests the Ellesmere camel was 30% taller, making it about 2.7 meters (8.9 feet) at the shoulder.4
The Yukon camel fossil was found in Pleistocene sediment, but the Ellesmere camel from the mid-Pliocene is conventionally dated much older, at about 3.5 million years. Both are classified as Paracamelus. Paracamelus, considered the ancestor of modern camels, are also found in Europe, Africa, and Asia, where they were thought to have evolved.3 Researchers now contend the Paracamelus evolved in North America.
Note that the collagen fingerprinting of this large camel, presumed to be 3.5 million years old, was a near-perfect match to the modern dromedary camel as well as their Yukon cousin. In fact, the ancient giant camels’ collagen is even a better match than the other species of living camel. No camel evolution is indicated by this discovery.
The findings are actually quite consistent with biblical history. The camel-kind—thought to include llama and alpacas—dispersing from the region of Ararat at the end of the global Flood—would have multiplied like the other animals and spread out geographically. The fatty hump would have served as a great advantage to the animals needing to survive the long, dark Arctic winters.
Pliocene layers are thought by many creation geologists to have been deposited in association with small localized post-Flood catastrophes, since they often contain fossilized creatures in their apparent native habitats, like those found with this camel bone on Ellesmere Island. The million-year dates are based on the unverifiable assumptions used to interpret conventional radiometric dating methods.5
Additional Paracamelus fossils found in Pleistocene layers demonstrate the camels’ presence in the Ice Age. And through all this we see that the camel-kind varied to produce size variations and the different species of modern camels as well as their South American cousins, but camels really haven’t changed all that much. The camel got its new start in the world when it got off of Noah’s Ark, less than 4,500 years ago.
The Atlantic claims more and more homeschooling families embrace evolution and need books to teach it.
The Atlantic last week featured an article claiming that “a growing number” of Christian homeschooling families are suffering from “inevitable criticism” of their acceptance of evolution and a dearth of textbooks to help them teach it. Offering only anecdotal comments from three Christian homeschool moms who teach their children to accept the claims of conventional evolutionary science, author David Wheeler provides no data or documentation to support his claim.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), based on a 2010 study by Dr. Brian Ray,6 estimates that there are over 2 million homeschooled students in the United States. HSLDA’s Director of International Relations Michael Donnelly estimates there are between 500,000 and a million more worldwide.7 Though the reasons parents choose to homeschool vary widely, a 2007 Department of Education study reported that the percentage of parents who homeschool in order to pass on religious or moral instruction had risen to 83%.6 And 36% listed religious or moral instruction to be their top reason.6 A substantial number of parents who home educate are Christians.
Many Christians erroneously believe that the Genesis account of our origins, the global Flood, and the biblical timeline for the age of the earth have been disproved by science. Thus while Wheeler only offers anecdotal examples, it is no surprise that some homeschooling Christians accept mainstream evolutionary science with a belief in millions of years and teach that to their children. And whether or not that proportion is actually increasing, organizations such as BioLogos are pouring in “money and resources” to make that number grow. For instance, a recent BioLogos conference in New York City explored plans to counter “grassroots education (YEC) initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, [which] have won over the majority of evangelicals.”8
Wheeler writes that “a growing number” of evangelical Christian homeschooling parents are “dismayed” by textbooks that deride evolutionary beliefs. He cites “Answers in Genesis curriculum, which features books such as Dinosaurs of Eden” as an example and says an evangelical Christian homeschooling “scientist” was horrified at seeing the much-publicized drawing of a saddled dinosaur. In the first place, Wheeler is incorrect in identifying this children’s book as curriculum. It is not. It never was. It happens that the artist hired by the publisher to illustrate this informative children’s book opted to do so in a manner consistent with the popular Dinotopia9 series. Ken Ham has never taught children that people saddled dinosaurs but rather that they coexisted with them. (See News to Note, February 2, 2013 for more.)
This same homeschool mother says, “We get a lot of flak from others for not using Christian textbooks.” Of course, homeschool parents who use textbooks that dispute evolutionary dogma certainly get “a lot of flak” from those who claim they are ruining their children by teaching them to think critically about evolution and to accept the authority of God’s Word. Disagreement among moms in homeschool support groups about curriculum choices doesn’t exactly qualify as persecution. And it isn’t like parents who insist on teaching their children to accept evolution haven’t had books available to them. Besides the availability of mainstream textbooks used in public schools, some publishers have long made materials available for this share of the market. (Christianity Today describes Sonlight as one that has long straddled this fence.10) Hoping to either tap into the evolutionary market share or to increase it, publishers like Christian Schools International out of Michigan are now promoting curriculum teaching theistic evolution.
Another homeschool mom Wheeler quotes says, “Our science curriculum is one currently used in public schools. We want our children to be educated, not sheltered from things we are afraid of them learning.” Yet Answers in Genesis and many other publishers don’t suggest isolating children from evolutionary claims. Instead, many products are geared to teaching children to discern the difference between testable, repeatable, observable experimental science and the worldview-based interpretations of historical science. To do so, the claims of evolution must be taught and examined critically.
Roger Patterson, a former public school teacher who is now a curriculum writer and editor of educational resources at Answers in Genesis, notes:
We do not want children to be ignorant of the evolutionary view of origins, whether cosmological, geological, or biological, but we present the biblical explanation as truth alongside the false ideas of the various forms of evolution. We try to help the students understand how their worldview influences the way they interpret the world, just like evolutionary scientists interpret the data from their worldview. Evolution is not incompatible with the existence of God, but it is inconsistent with the way God describes His acts of creation in the early chapters of Genesis.
Given that the desire to pass on moral values and faith is such a common reason people homeschool, Patterson adds:
Those Christian parents who have pulled their children from public schools because of the values taught there do not realize that undermining the truth of Genesis as actual history undermines the basis for those values. Without the truths defined in the literal history of Genesis 1–11, what basis do you have for sexual identity, marriage, modesty, idolatry, murder, et cetera? We write our curricula from the perspective that we can only understand historical science in light of the truths of Scripture. We understand Genesis to present an actual history, not just an allegorical or mythical one, so we teach that God actually created different animals as He described—we take God at His Word.
Wheeler cites David Montgomery, author of The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, as support for the idea that the schism between Christians over evolution and the age of the earth is a fairly new phenomenon that followed in the wake of Christians who saw Darwinian evolution as an essentially atheistic view. He maintains that over time those who accept the history in Genesis as literal “came to reject both geology and evolutionary biology.”
But as Dr. Terry Mortenson, whose PhD is in the history of geology, explains, acceptance of authoritative biblical history is not a rejection of science.
Montgomery is correct that by the time Darwin published Origin of Species virtually the whole church had accepted the millions of years, although it was not because they had carefully considered the “compelling geological evidence.” Rather it was simply that they accepted (by faith) the claims of the scientific majority and the assurances of Christian leaders and scientists that there was no conflict between the Bible's teaching and the idea of millions of years. In other words, they assumed that since “all the scientists, including God-fearing Christian scientists” agree that the earth is millions of years old, then it must be so. As a result the gap theory and day-age theory of Genesis 1 were the dominant ways that Christians attempted to fit millions of years into Genesis. Montgomery is also right that many fundamentalists thought evolution was an atheistic hypothesis.
But he is not correct in saying that those who insisted on a literal interpretation of Genesis 1–11 (not just Genesis 1) “came to reject both geology and evolutionary biology.” Rather, such Christians rejected the naturalistic, anti-biblical assumptions that were used to interpret the geological and biological observations in a way that implied millions of years and evolution. They never rejected geology and biology as sciences, just as the Scriptural geologists of the early 19th century never rejected geology, but only the old-earth interpretations of the geological evidence.11
The only true foundation for the Christian faith is Jesus Christ, for 1 Corinthians 3:11 says, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And Jesus Christ prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” God’s truth in God’s Word should be the authoritative standard by which we evaluate our doctrinal positions and all that we teach to our children (2 Timothy 3:15–17). And if Jesus Christ is our Savior, shouldn’t we believe what He said? Be sure to read Did Jesus Say He Created in Six Literal Days? to learn more.
HSLDA was founded by Christians to defend the rights of all parents, regardless of their faith, to direct the upbringing of their children through home education. HSLDA Attorney Michael Donnelly, echoes the fervent desire of many parents, saying, “Homeschooling is a great choice for all parents and in my opinion is the single most effective form of education that allows Christian parents to carry out their God-given duty to train their children in the way they should go. Nothing else comes close to allowing parents to disciple their children into a relationship with their Creator.”7
Therefore, the homeschool community, by and large, has been responsive to warnings that their children need a solid foundation for their faith. Many have embraced “young earth creationism” because they do recognize that God’s Word is true from the very first verse. And those who compromise on biblical authority, such as BioLogos, see the homeschooling community as a threat. It is vital that homeschool families resist the fear-mongering calls of those, whether government officials or evolution educators, who falsely claim that children will be failures if they aren’t educated to not just know, but to accept the claims of evolutionary scientists (shades of Nineteen Eighty-Four, anyone?).
When Christians compromise on the historical authenticity of the Genesis account of our origins, the global Flood, and the biblically attested age of the earth, they chip away at the very authority of the God’s Word, relegating it to the realm of allegory or philosophical speculation (Colossians 2:8). Thus they diminish its power to change the lives of our children. They erode their faith by encouraging them to distrust the source of all that God has told us. And they rob them of the answers for many of life’s greatest questions about the source of sin and suffering in the world and the reason we need to be saved.
What do honeybee waggles and birdsong have to do with human speech? MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa believes they demonstrate that human speech evolved the way Darwin thought it did. Darwin, in the Descent of Man, wrote, “The sound uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language,” adding human language begun as singing “might have given rise to words expressive of various complex emotions.”
Miyagawa is lead author of the February 2013 study “The emergence of hierarchical structure in human language.” He points out that human language is completely unique because it combines expressive qualities (analogous to birdsong) with interchangeable information-carrying parts (analogous to honeybee waggle dances and primate alarms). These two sorts of communication are never combined in animals. Therefore, Miyagawa concludes they both evolved in humans.
“‘There were these two pre-existing systems,‘ Miyagawa says, ‘like apples and oranges that just happened to be put together.’” Coauthor Robert Berwick adds, “When something new evolves, it is often built out of old parts. We see this over and over again in evolution. Old structures can change just a little bit, and acquire radically new functions.” They write, “We account for the appearance of a novel function, language, within a conventional Darwinian framework, along with its apparently unique emergence in a single species.”12
Birdsong is similar to human language in several ways. Both are learned best while young. Humans and birds both learn by imitating others, often by repeatedly babbling to practice sequences of sounds in order to learn the necessary muscular motions. And both involve functions localized to one side of the brain. Yet even in birds that produce complex loops, repetitions, and branches using the same song elements, those “song elements are never combined to yield new ‘meanings.’”12
On the other hand, honeybee waggle dances consist of two interchangeable informative elements. The direction of the dance conveys the compass heading of a food source. The speed of the dance conveys information about distance.12 Likewise, monkeys and apes may interchange different calls to alert their neighbors to the kind of predator nearby (python versus leopard, for instance).12
Human speech has characteristics resembling both sorts of animal communication. The way birdsong rearranges chunks of sound is analogous to the way human language rearranges words and phrases to express completely original ideas. This originality and creativity goes beyond the simple informative combinations in bee dances. Miyagawa cites additional unique qualities of human language as evidence of evolutionary advances that became possible when these basic elements evolved in the same species.12
The researchers conclude that early human ancestors first learned to sing and then figured out how to rearrange sounds to convey actual information. Berwick says, “It's not a very long step to say that what got joined together was the ability to construct these complex patterns, like a song, but with words.”
So how do these researchers know that language evolved this way? Actually, of course, they don’t. They even write in their published study, “While speculation about evolution without direct data remains challenging, it may still be possible to provide an account broadly compatible with what we know about human language syntax, along with the apparently rapid emergence of language” (emphasis ours).12 In other words, it is not possible to scientifically verify their claims through any sort of observational science. Though they admit that figuring out how something evolved “without direct data remains challenging,” a more realistic statement would have admitted that to do so is impossible.
They also write, “Like many evolutionary innovations, we propose that language arose from the adventitious combination of two pre-existing, simpler systems evolved for other tasks.”12 In other words, even though there is no direct observational data to support their evolutionary model, they assume that—because language is a combination of simpler components that uniquely combine to allow a virtually infinite number of abstract meanings to be expressed—it must have evolved from such simpler components.
Thus, the authors have no scientific support for their conclusions. They assume their Darwinian evolutionary explanation is valid because they assume that language—like everything else—must have evolved in order to exist.
The Bible in its history provides the actual origin for language. God made Adam and Eve in His own image. God communicated with them, and Adam’s first responsibility involved naming animals. Clearly Adam and Eve were created with the ability to speak. All people spoke the same language (Genesis 11:1) until God confused the languages at the Tower of Babel in the years after the global Flood. To be able to express a virtually infinite number of original and abstract thoughts is indeed a quality unique to humans. The source of this ability is not explained by evolutionary surmises that primarily recognize the unique heights to which human speech can attain, but by the simple fact that we were created with this ability to use true language.
Arkansas boldly steps out to snatch a victory for life from the jaws of Roe v. Wade.
Arkansas last week passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country, overriding the governor’s veto. The Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act13 takes the exact language of the Roe v. Wade decision and uses it to protect fetuses after the first trimester.
“We have chosen here to utilize language from Roe v. Wade that says the states have an interest in protecting human lives, especially fetuses at approximately the end of the first trimester and the beginning of the second trimester,” according to Arkansas state Senator Jason Rapert. Arkansas’s governor vetoed the bill, saying that defending it in court would be costly. But the legislature overrode the veto, and the law should go into effect later this year.
While an unborn child is as human in the second trimester as in the first, the language of Roe v. Wade does not allow for restrictions earlier than 12 weeks. “We believe that because we put it at 12 weeks it will survive a court challenge - we are setting it at the end of the first trimester,” explains Arkansas state Representative Ann Clemmer. Arkansas law already “declares a 12-week-old baby in utero to be a person and we have prosecuted individuals who have hurt babies in utero,” Representative Clemmer adds, so the new law is consistent with existing legislation.
The law will require that women seeking abortion at 12 weeks or later to have an abdominal ultrasound. If a fetal heartbeat is detected, the abortion will not be permitted, Senator Rapert explains, except in cases of “rape, incest, to save the life of the mother and to prevent irreparable harm to the mother's health, in addition to giving an exception for fatal fetal anomalies.”14
Penalties for violation will include jail and fines for doctors who abort babies in defiance of the law’s provisions but no penalties for the mothers.14
Not surprisingly, pro-abortion activists vow to challenge the law in court. Arkansas ACLU executive director Rita Sklar says, “We will fight this law in court to ensure that politicians cannot deny women the ability to make their own decisions about their own health.” Even though the new law is completely consistent with the letter of the United States Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling claims, “The bill is clearly unconstitutional, clearly inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent” and plans to file a legal challenge before the law takes effect later this year.14
Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, a non-profit defender of religious freedom, the family, and sanctity of life, says, “What Arkansas is doing is neither radical nor unconstitutional.”15 In contrast to the claims in the Roe v. Wade decision, ranking a presumed right to privacy above the law’s duty to protect human life, in other areas of the law the unborn child’s rights are protected. Staver says, “In personal injury, criminal, and wills and estate law, the law has continued to recognize the unborn child as a human with legal protections, not merely a ‘potential’ human being.”15
Roe v. Wade created an unnatural distinction between the unborn in each trimester. Most laws in the country have used the subtleties of the decision’s language to liberalize access to abortion, permitting it for almost any reason whatever. This law takes the refreshing approach of using the language to protect at least some of the unborn.
Other states have attempted to pass similar laws but failed. Senator Rapert says, “I know that the eyes of the nation were on the Arkansas House of Representatives today, and what you see happening is that people are waking up.” Given the mind-boggling number of babies killed by abortion in America since 1973, he says, “We have had a very irrational policy on abortion in our nation. . . . I am asking us to have a conscience and to wake up to this issue, and I believe this [law] is a great step in that direction.”
Will this country, now habituated to accept the legalized murder of the unborn, continue the trend of wanton disregard for human life created in the image of God? Or could this law possibly be the first substantial victory against the forces gathered against the unborn for so many decades? While this law takes effect and is subjected to court challenges, we should pray for a fundamental shift in judges, lawmakers, and the people of this country toward the acceptance of the sanctity of human life on a biblical basis. A biblical foundation is the key to an enduring change.
Human beings did not evolve through natural processes but were created in the image of our Creator, the one true God who loves each of us enough to give His Son Jesus Christ to die in our place (John 3:16). We are not animals, not even highly evolved ones. Because of this biblical truth, we know that the unborn should be protected at all stages of life.
Our hats are off to the tireless legislators in Arkansas who worked to craft this law in language consistent with the law of our land and who then worked to shepherd it through the legal process.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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