Wind, not water, may have built the Martian Mount Sharp.
“Time to see where our Curiosity will take us!” rang out from the ecstatic group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as soon as the Mars rover safely landed on the Red planet last August. Now it appears the answer will include a trip up a mountain formed not by water but by wind. Researchers still expect the mountain to provide a “book” of the planet’s history, including a possible answer about whether life once existed on this planet. But the tale of the mountain will not be told by water-borne sediment.
This is a view of Mount Sharp as seen from the Curiosity Martian rover’s vantage point. The lowermost layers appear to be have been deposited by water, scientists still believe. But the latest analysis of the rover’s photos reveal that the bulk of the mountain was probably not formed from material carried by water. Image: from Curiosity’s MastCam, AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, news.yahoo.com
The Martian rover landed in the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater, which contains Mount Sharp. Views from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were used in selecting a landing site where it appeared the lowermost portion of the mountain had been deposited by water. This suggests that at some time in the past Mars may have been host to liquid water.
Orbital photos of the upper portions of Mount Sharp, however, did not suggest a watery origin. Nevertheless, most scientists thought that the 3.4-mile-high mountain had been originally formed by layers of water-borne sediment and then, along with the surrounding crater, carved out by erosion. Scientists have therefore expected eventual analysis of the sediment layers in Mount Sharp would represent a timeline of Martian history.
A new analysis of photos of Mount Sharp taken from Curiosity’s vantage point, published in the journal Geology this month (volume 41, pages 543–546), suggests that water was not involved in the origin of the bulk of Mount Sharp. Researchers also used data from the orbital observations and ground-based measurements to model possible wind patterns and to suggest an alternate origin for the mountain.
Photos taken by Curiosity’s MastCam reveal an “unconformity” in Mount Sharp's composition, suggesting a place "where the process of sedimentation stopped." (Unconformities signify an erosional or a temporal break.) The researchers therefore suggest that, while the lower layers of sediment may have been deposited by water, the part of the mountain above the unconformity may have been deposited differently. The leading candidate suggested for an alternate mechanism is wind. Though the current study suggests ways in which wind patterns could have dumped debris to build the mountain, further research is needed to see if the sediment composing the mountain’s upper layers are consistent with that ordinarily associated with wind-borne material.
“Our work doesn't preclude the existence of lakes in Gale Crater, but suggests that the bulk of the material in Mount Sharp was deposited largely by the wind,” says study co-author Kevin Lewis.
Researchers suggests that wind sweeping up and down the crater slopes dumped loads of sediment that piled up to form Mount Sharp. “Every day and night you have these strong winds that flow up and down the steep topographic slopes. It turns out that a mound like this would be a natural thing to form in a crater like Gale,” says Lewis. “Contrary to our expectations, Mount Sharp could have essentially formed as a free-standing pile of sediment that never filled the crater.”
Once Curiosity completes its six-mile trip to the mountain and begins sampling the materials that comprise it, researchers hope analysis of those sediments will confirm their hypothesis. “One way or another, we're going to get an incredible history book of all the events going on while that sediment was being deposited,” Lewis says. “I think Mount Sharp will still provide an incredible story to read. It just might not have been a lake.”
While the composition of Mount Sharp may ultimately provide a peek into conditions existing in the Martian past, calibrating that timeline will be a worldview-based proposition. In other words, what scientists already believe about the age of the planet and the way they think the solar system formed will color their interpretation of how long it took the material comprising Mount Sharp to get there.
Curiosity’s main mission is to search for evidence that microbial life forms may have existed on Mars. Analysis of the first tablespoon-sized sample drilled from 2 ½ inches beneath the surface has revealed an assortment of chemicals that researchers believe could have supported microbial life. To date, however, no complex organic molecules or other evidence of life, past or present, has been found on Mars.
Evolutionary scientists tend to believe that given the right chemicals and habitable conditions, along with liquid water, life can evolve. And though it now appears that the massive Mount Sharp was not built by water, there is still evidence that liquid water may have once been present at its base. The presence of water, however, though essential for life, could not have led to the evolution of life through natural processes on Mars any more than on Earth.
Even if evidence that microbial life ever existed on Mars is someday found, that will not demonstrate that life actually evolved there. 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 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.
Are those who question evolution creating a missing link in Pennsylvania schools?
A recent survey of Pennsylvania teachers by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette revealed that 20% of high school science teachers “believe in creationism.” Coupled with a complaint by a college student that her Advanced Placement Biology teacher had “sped through the chapter on evolution,” this revelation has generated some harsh words about who should be teaching high school science and how.
The Duquesne University student, who had also been taught in her church youth group to believe that God is the Creator, complained, “In high school, a lot was not taught correctly, and it didn't prepare me for college. They should have gone into evolution in detail. The controversy should not be what is taught in school.”
The Pittsburgh paper’s columnist writes that this student’s experience “represents the ill-kept secret about public school biology classrooms nationwide—that evolution often isn't taught robustly, if at all.” And Duquesne University biology professor David Lampe, who organizes the university's annual Darwin Day celebration, complains:
I don't think we'll ever stop people from objecting to the teaching of evolution. It is not an issue of interpreting scientific data. No one in science seriously questions whether evolution is real. It is still a theological problem for people.
Those who want to teach creationism or can't teach evolution shouldn't be there. If they want to teach creationism or intelligent design, it's a nice Sunday school topic. There's a forum for that. People who don't believe in evolution should opt out of modern science and resort to rattling chicken bones.
Penn State University political science professor Michael Berkman, coauthor of Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms, believes that evolution should be the “driving theme of the biology course, beginning to end.” He notes that teacher skepticism is undercutting the effectiveness of evolutionary teaching. “How do you become a science teacher when you are a young-Earth creationist?” Berkman asks. He believes teachers are also reluctant to teach evolution “robustly” because “many students have been primed by parents and youth groups to raise difficult and challenging questions.”
As we have discussed before, teaching children to discern the difference between experimental testable “here-and-now” science and worldview-based interpretations about origins imposed on scientific data by evolutionists is key to developing critical thinking skills in students.
Abiogenesis, for instance, is never observed in biology, but most evolutionists believe life came from non-living elements through natural processes. Evolutionists claim new, more complex living organisms evolved through natural processes, but biology reveals that living things do actually reproduce “after their kinds,” as the Bible indicates. Evolutionists claim that variations in living organisms eventually produce novel genetic information and new kinds of creatures, but biology demonstrates that living organisms only vary within their kinds. Evolutionists claim mutations provide the raw material for evolution, but mutations destroy genetic information rather than create new genetic information as evolutionists claim.
The observable facts of science support the biblical history of life’s origin. And while current law prohibits the teaching of the Bible in public school science classrooms, students can be taught to think critically and look carefully at the claims of evolutionists. By questioning carefully, discerning students may learn that evolutionary claims really don’t hold water. Yet science educators are set against allowing high school teachers to encourage students to ask revealing questions.
By contrast, atheists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, stars of the just-released documentary The Unbelievers, in a recent interview discussing their plans to rid the world of Christianity declared they want their film to get viewers to question their religious beliefs. Dawkins and Krauss are confident that questioning, intelligent people will accept evolution and ultimately atheism.
So which is it, to question or not to question? Questioning is good, atheistic evolutionists say, so long as faith is being questioned. But questioning is not acceptable, they assert, when evolution is being questioned. Questioning is not okay, they believe, when it might reveal the fact that evolution’s primary principles are not supported by observational, experimental science.
We however are not afraid of questions. Scripture commands Christians to prepare themselves to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, KJV). Our hope for the future depends on our faith in the grace of Jesus Christ, who is both Savior and Creator. Answers in Genesis seeks to equip people with the answers they need from both science and Scripture so that they will see that observable science affirms Scriptural truth. It is our hope to encourage people to have faith in God’s Word and in the God of the Bible.
Read more about the “evangelistic” agenda of atheists set to eradicate God from history in this week’s analysis of the claims of The Unbelievers.
To read AiG’s views on the teaching of origins in government-run schools, including the problem of mandating that instructors teach creation or intelligent design to their students, see What Happened in Kansas?
Could physicians be better doctors if they applied evolution to their practice of medicine?
Despite the wide acceptance of evolutionary beliefs among mainstream scientists, many physicians—whether they accept evolution or not—find evolutionary claims neither relevant nor useful. And the distinction is not due to a deficit of educational attainment: a medical degree is as much a doctoral degree in science as a PhD in the U.S. (and many other countries). Some claim that physicians would be better doctors if they understood evolution better, but many disagree.
Evolution is not emphasized in most medical schools. Medical educators have a great deal to teach to budding physicians in a short time. The least important topic is evolution. As the Dean of Yale Medical School, Robert Alpern, explains, “I think evolutionary biology could be taught to a much greater extent, but as a dean who has many passions about education, there are many competing priorities for the time in the curriculum.” Asked whether additional training in evolution would improve the way doctors treat patients or conduct research, Alpern says, “I don’t think they’d change a lot.” Others disagree. Psychiatrist Randolph Nesse, who teaches evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, has been crusading for decades to get medical schools to give evolution a prominent place. Nesse says, “It’s not too hard to demonstrate that doctors are ignorant about real fundamentals of evolution,” says Randolph Nesse. But Nesse believes “A doctor who has a deep foundation in evolution will think different about disease. Instead of just seeing disease as some screw-up in the machine, they will ask of every disease, why didn’t natural selection make the body more resistant to this particular problem?”
Nesse, along with Yale evolutionary biologist Stephen Stearns and Dean of Harvard Medical School Jeffrey Flier, co-authored an eight-page essay, “Making evolutionary biology a basic science for medicine,” which was published in the 2009 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors believe evolutionary biology “is an essential foundation for a biological understanding of health and disease.” They write that evolutionary methodology is needed to understand population genomics, pathogen evolution, and “why natural selection leaves bodies vulnerable to disease.” The essay notes that the study of DNA has progressed a great deal in recent years and can be used to track the prevalence of observable inheritable traits in populations. The remainder of the essay is largely a summary of Nesse’s 1994 book, Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine.
In asserting the need to be taught evolution to understand population genomics, Nesse and his coauthors list the various genetic mechanisms that can affect the fitness and overall makeup of population. They note that those most able to survive and reproduce are those most likely to produce the populations of tomorrow. They therefore conclude, “Natural selection and these other evolutionary mechanisms change species, and, equally important, keep them the same via stabilizing selection that disfavors individuals with extreme traits.”
Natural selection within the human species has nothing, however, to do with evolution of complexity. In fact, biblical creationists commonly cite the same genetic factors when explaining how various people groups developed after the global Flood and the subsequent dispersion from the Tower of Babel. The genetic tools Nesse believes depend on evolutionary thinking have nothing to do with evolution of complexity. Doctors do not need an evolutionary look at an untestable past to interpret the epidemiologic and genomic data before their eyes.
Evolutionist Richard Dawkins has suggested Nesse’s 1994 book Why We Get Sick? could help get all physicians to become Darwinists. Dawkins said, “If doctors had been wise to natural selection we wouldn't have the problem we now have with antibiotic resistance evolving by natural selection by bacteria.”1 Yet antibiotic resistance has nothing to do with evolution of new genetic information. Antibiotic resistance, as we discussed yet again recently involves natural selection and the genetic shuffling of genes that bacteria already possess. Doctors don’t need to believe in evolution to understand the interaction of natural selection with the rapid shuffling of genetic material in microbes to understand antibiotic resistance.
The essay’s authors cite the importance of understanding and the development of pathogenicity. But as many articles on this website (listed below) have discussed, microbial pathogens can be best understood by realizing the beneficial roles of microbes in the original good, disease-free creation and then examining the changes brought about since sin and death entered the world.
Historically, evolutionary thinking has even caused physicians to make poor medical decisions. Erroneous beliefs that “vestigial organs” were useless evolutionary leftovers led many physicians to destroy them needlessly. For instance, many unnecessary appendectomies were done on the grounds of Darwin’s evolutionary explanations of the differences between human and ape digestive systems.
While premedical students will have to be familiar with evolutionary claims in order to do well on the 2015 version of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), which is being revised to include more questions about evolution, there is no necessity that they actually believe them. In fact, discerning students need instead to understand the difference between evolutionary conjecture and experimental, testable, clinical science (including natural selection) on which they should base their future medical decisions.
This information is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended as professional medical advice. The information should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or other healthcare professional. If you have specific questions about any medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment, you should consult your physician.
Dinosaur skin sample may yield the secret of its color, but anything about the creature’s age?
A Late Cretaceous hadrosaur fossil found last year in Grand Prairie, Alberta, is one of only three known dinosaur specimens to preserve a three-dimensional piece of skin. As with other dinosaurs, scientists and artists have never known what color to paint it. Analysis of the skin using a synchrotron at Canadian Light Source (CLS) may offer a clue about what color this duck-billed dinosaur was.
Physicist Mauricio Barbie said, “As we excavated the fossil, I thought that we were looking at a skin impression. Then I noticed a piece came off and I realized this is not ordinary—this is real skin. Everyone involved with the excavation was incredibly excited and we started discussing research projects right away.”
The pigment in skin and feathers is tucked into tiny intracellular packets called melanosomes. The shape of melanosomes can offer a clue to their owner’s color. Fossils of Microraptor and Archeopteryx feathers have been found to contain melanosomes. Analyses comparing the shape of their melanosomes with the melanosomes in modern bird feathers suggested those creatures were both black. But this study is expected to be the first to shed light on dinosaur skin color.
“If we are able to observe the melanosomes and their shape, it will be the first time pigments have been identified in the skin of a dinosaur,” says Barbi. “We have no real idea what the skin looks like. Is it green, blue, orange. . . . There has been research that proved the color of some dinosaur feathers, but never skin.” (As we’ve discussed elsewhere, Microraptor and Archaeopteryx are actually birds.)
A synchrotron accelerates electrons and manipulates them to enable scientists to probe the structure of matter, even at the molecular level. The light it generates causes different kinds of chemical bonds to vibrate in different ways. Synchroton-based X-ray diffraction has been used to document the preservation of molecular keratin and collagen in some fossils. The CLS synchrotron is also being used to analyze “Scotty,” the famous T. rex from Saskatchewan.
Barbi hopes to reflect synchrotron-based infrared light off the skin sample to learn more about the chemical components and intracellular structure. CLS infrared specialist Tim May says, “It is astonishing that we can get information like this from such an old sample. Skin has fat and lots of dead cells along with many inorganic compounds. We can reflect the infrared beam off the sample and we can analyze the samples to give us very clear characteristics.”
Barbi also hopes to learn more about why this particular piece of skin was preserved so well. The clues could involve the original structural and chemical components of the skin, the chemical characteristics of the material in which the hadrosaur was buried, and other factors.
Conventional dates assigned to the rock in which the hadrosaur was found are around 70 million years. Yet these dates are based on a number of unverifiable assumptions. Within the Flood model of geology, many of the fossil-containing rock layers can be best understood to reflect the order of burial during the global Flood, which occurred less than 4,500 years ago. Sudden catastrophic burial was the key to preservation in general. Perhaps more information about this particular fossil will reveal whether it had characteristics that enhanced its preservation. But to suppose this skin fragment survived for 70 million years with some of its cellular structure intact is fanciful story-telling. Some assumptions will have to be made in interpreting the probable color associated with the shape of any melanosomes that may still be present in the skin—since there will need to be comparison with the melanosomes of similar living organisms. (The assumptions will hinge on which living creatures are truly similar enough to dinosaurs for comparison.) Nevertheless, we certainly look forward to learning more about the likely color of this duck-billed dinosaur.
We certainly look forward to learning more about the likely color of this duck-billed dinosaur.
Pentagon consults with activist who wants Christian military personnel prosecuted for sedition.
On April 23 Pentagon officials reportedly met with Michael Weinstein of the anti-Christian group Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to discuss “Air Force Culture, Air Force Standards.” Weinstein claims that the military is packed with “fundamentalist Christian religious predators” who regularly violate the religious freedom of other military personnel. Weinstein equates the efforts of these Christians to share their faith with sedition and treason. Saying “someone needs to be punished for this,” Weinstein is demanding prosecutions by the hundreds to prevent a “tidal wave of fundamentalists” who “spiritually rape” their comrades in arms. Weinstein claims that Christians are causing widespread problems in the military, telling FoxNews, “It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators.”
To get an idea of Weinstein’s idea of just what sort of Christians should be prosecuted, one need only look at his open hostility toward organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), the American Family Association (AFA), and the Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty.” Weinstein claims these organizations that promote “family values” are “extremist” and “militant” and should be suppressed for their “rapacious reign of theocratic terror.”2
Soon after the meeting with Weinstein, Department of Defense Lieutenant Commander Nate Christensen issued a statement saying, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense” and implicitly threatening to court-martial military personnel who proselytize. “Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases,” he said. A firestorm of protest erupting in the wake of the meeting, Weinstein’s vitriolic comments, and this announcement has led to a new Pentagon statement termed “clarification” by some and “backtracking” by others.
Section 2.11 of the Air Force policy, which was published on August 7, 2012, requires “government neutrality regarding religion.” It states, “Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion.” Weinstein is not satisfied with current levels of enforcement and is convinced that droves of non-Christian military personnel are being oppressed by Christians violating the directive.
Expressing concern over the reported threats to the right of even military chaplains to provide spiritual counsel, Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, warned that such a policy would “significantly impact the religious liberties of Air Force personnel.” He added, “Saying that a service member cannot speak of his faith is like telling a service member he cannot talk about his spouse or children.” Unsure just how Weinstein’s meeting and the DOD statement might play out, Crews said, “I do not think the Air Force wants to ban personnel from protected religious speech, and I certainly hope that it is willing to listen to the numerous individuals and groups who protect military religious liberty without demonizing service members.”
Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins questioned the wisdom of the Pentagon in meeting with Weinstein concerning its policies. Perkins commented, “Why would military leadership be meeting with one of the most rabid atheists in America to discuss religious freedom in the military. That’s like consulting with China on how to improve human rights.” FRC launched a petition drive to urge American Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “not to proceed with the purge of religion within the ranks called for by anti-Christian activists.”
The Pentagon has now issued a statement allowing “evangelization” but not “proselytizing.” Christensen now says, “Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).” U.S. Army Lieutenant General (retired) Jerry Boykin, now FRC’s executive vice president, is concerned that the implicit vagueness of these Pentagon statements as well as the threat of court-martial already alluded to by the Pentagon will severely impact the religious freedom of American soldiers. This incident, along with other recent events suggesting an increasingly “open hostility” toward Christians is growing in the military, may cause military personnel to fear sharing their faith, lest their efforts to comfort and counsel be misconstrued and they be prosecuted as “enemies of the state.”
General Jerry Boykin wants to find out just what Pentagon officials may have told Weinstein. “We’d like to get a statement saying exactly what assurances Mikey Weinstein did get from the Air Force,” Boykin says. “So we’ll be satisfied as soon as they tell us either that Mikey Weinstein is lying or give us an account of what those assurances were so that we understand the depth of the issue and the depth of the problem.”
General Boykin is requesting a meeting with the Pentagon to discuss the issue. “If they will tell us that and give us the assurance that living their faith and sharing their faith is a protected right then we’ll be satisfied.” Certainly FRC and Boykin are opposed to religious coercion in the military and in all other venues. Speaking at a National Day of Prayer observance on Capitol Hill, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral William D. Lee echoed their sentiments, warning of suppression of religious freedom in the military. Lee said, “I am not talking about proselytizing; I am vehemently against that. I’m talking about gently whispering the gospel.”3
Christians have been echoing the words of the apostles since the first century. When told not to speak anymore of Jesus Christ, “Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’” Thanks to the first amendment to the Constitution, the United States government has no right to restrict religious speech. And American military personnel do not give up that right when they take an oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.
Weinstein’s vitriolic remarks and the benign nature of the organizations he targets certainly do not support his contention that the military is full of people attempting to push their beliefs on others. His classification of “proselytizing” as sedition and treason with the force of “rape” clearly make him a most unhelpful source of information for the Department of Defense. Furthermore, his hyperbolic emotive terminology could easily be classified as “hate speech.” Concerned for the rights of all Americans—including those sworn to protect our Constitution—to speak freely of their faith and not to fear prosecution for doing so, we eagerly await the results of General Boykin’s fact-finding efforts and echo Tony Perkins’ sentiments in wondering just exactly what the Department of Defense hoped to accomplish by discussing its policy with someone like Weinstein.
We are now in the season when many homeschool parents are choosing next year’s curricula. Christianity Today’s recent article “A New Creation Story: Why do more homeschoolers want evolution in their textbooks?” may lead some homeschoolers to question how they should approach topics like biological evolution, big bang cosmology, and the age of Earth. Do modern homeschooling parents need to adopt “a new creation story” to ensure their children’s success? Not at all. Christians need to use textbooks that begin with the fact that God’s Word is the yardstick by which all the ideas of man—even scientific interpretations of what we observe in nature—should be based. A well-taught child will understand that the observable facts of science actually support the biblical accounts of creation and the global Flood. The claim of some Christian academics that children should be simply presented with “all viewpoints” and encouraged to choose is dangerous. This approach will not help them learn to discern, because presentations of “all viewpoints” typically do not distinguish between the worldview-based claims of evolutionists and the observable facts of experimental science. Now, children should be exposed to other views (like theistic evolution) because they are so prominent in society, but they should also be shown why they are wrong. Read more about this issue in yesterday’s article.
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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