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A look back at 2009’s news—alien life and exoplanets, Darwin and “evolution in action,” missing links and classroom controversies, and more!
For the fourth time in a row we’re looking back at some of the year’s top news stories as they relate to the authority and accuracy of the Bible, especially the question of origins (see our previous efforts in 2008, 2007, and 2006). Like last year, we’re reviewing some of the “recurring themes that made significant headlines in the debate over origins,” from planets hundreds of light-years away to the schoolhouse down the street.
As always, evolutionists’ quest to understand how life could have originated from non-life—a proposition they already accept by faith—was frequently hot news. And in 2009, the search for life’s supposed abiotic origins focused even more on the heavens above.
One researcher claimed there are between 361 and 37,964 alien civilizations in the Milky Way, while another put the figure of Earth-like planets in the galaxy at 100,000,000,000. A team of scientists created a way to identify prebiotic material in space. A meteorite and a comet were claimed to house building blocks of life, and astronomers generated the “Standard Microbial Habitability index” to quantify how well a planet is suited for life. By the end of the year, even the Vatican was eagerly asking about alien life.
Exoplanets—planets located outside our own solar system—continued to be a prominent news item in News to Note (with its own section in last year’s Year in Review edition as well). Among the new exoplanets reported on was extremely hot CoRoT-Exo-7b, the supposedly Earth-like Gliese 581 e, “unusual” XO-3b and “nonconformist” WASP-17b, and even more Earth-like planets. Astronomers also discovered WASP-18b on a collision course with its parent star.
We already noted in our 2008 year-end News to Note that 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth—and, coincidentally, the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. The Darwin craze began to hit the media, and for three weeks straight leading up to the anniversary of his February 12, 1809 birth (January 31, February 7, February 14), and we covered all manner of Darwin news. The obsession with both Darwin the man and Darwin the scientist continued throughout the year, epitomized in media analysis of his financial expenditures as a student and praise for his ideas about the origin of life. We also learned more about the compromise of some Christian schools—and not of others—on Darwin. But even non-creationists asked whether Darwin’s theories have made any difference, cautioned the public to the danger of overselling Darwin and the danger of worshipping Darwin, and offered a provocative look at the dark side of Darwin’s legacy.
The idea that scientists can observe snippets of Darwinian evolution “in action” repeatedly made news in 2009. We saw reverse evolution in January and evolutionary gems in February; then we read accounts of lizard evolution, fish evolution, more fish evolution, microbial evolution, snail evolution, more snail evolution, flu evolution, rabies evolution, even more snail evolution, rat evolution, more lizard evolution, robot evolution, flower evolution, bird evolution, more microbial evolution, mouse evolution, viral evolution, human evolution, more bird evolution, more viral evolution, and even more bird evolution. Whew!
From the discovery of nearly 8,000 dinosaur bones in China to the discovery of dozens of dinosaur eggs in India, 2009 saw its share of interesting paleontological findings. Several stories portrayed “dinosaurs” with “feathers”—as in January, March, and October. We learned about purported T. rex ancestors in April, September, and November.
The demise of species—whether one, some, or all—was also a common topic. Scientists came up with a new explanation for the Permian–Triassic extinction event and argued that some dinosaurs may have survived their supposed extinction.
Additionally, reports of the fossilization of soft tissue and other organic materials added to the evidence for catastrophic fossil formation: a well preserved octopus, a squid’s ink sac, ancient hadrosaur proteins, a hadrosaur mummy, pterosaur membranes, and even salamander muscle.
Some of the most Bible-upholding research and discoveries on extinct reptiles was presumably not intended as such. One was a solid study refuting dinosaur-to-bird evolution. Another indicated that velociraptors’ claws may have been used to climb trees rather than shred flesh. Finally, a fossil hunter found the skull of what may have been one of what the Bible calls Leviathan.
From an orangutan that can whistle to a chimp that threw stones at zoo visitors, 2009 was filled with evolutionary speculation about the capabilities of our supposed simian kin. Scientists also looked at ape laughter, monkey grammar, the absence of ape innovation, and chimpanzee goodwill.
Of course, evolutionists didn’t leave us empty-handed when it came to missing link speculation. Among the biggest news of the year was alleged missing link “Ida,” the well-preserved fossil of a lemur-like creature that was passed off as a key human ancestor (supposedly the missing link). We tipped readers off one week before the carefully orchestrated media frenzy began, which was quickly followed by widespread attacks on the headline-grabbing interpretation of the fossil and an admission that a scientist paid three-quarters of a million dollars for it. Eventually, some of the fossil’s many critics published peer-reviewed research attacking the “missing link” interpretation.
One team of researchers decided that human ancestors weren’t very good at swinging through trees, while another team concluded that humans went straight from swinging in trees to walking upright. The documentary Becoming Human took another look at supposed missing links “Selam” and the Toumaï skull, and the program The Incredible Human Journey revealed the face of the first European. Scientists unveiled missing link “Ardi”—reassembled from “badly crushed and distorted bones [that] would turn to dust at a touch”—and suggested that orangutans, not chimpanzees are our closest evolutionary relatives. And, lest you wonder, another team speculated about the future of human evolution.
Answers in Genesis and our Creation Museum were in the news regularly again this year. In fact, creationists in general received a good deal of coverage, with several news sources taking the opportunity of the “year of Darwin” to reexamine his opponents.
We were the first mention in an article on those “defying” Darwin in February. The following month, a writer for Canada’s National Post attacked us in print—as did a writer for the UK’s Guardian in November. News media also documented what might be called “cultural exchanges” between creationists and evolutionists: the Washington Post profiled two Answers in Genesis friends on a Smithsonian field trip, while the New York Times followed old-earth paleontologists as they visited the Creation Museum. And BBC News offered a neutral look at just who goes to a “creationist” museum.
We also earned coverage for our new natural selection/Darwin exhibit at the Creation Museum, while the museum itself was featured as Kentucky’s representative in Time’s look at 50 “authentic American experiences.”
Meanwhile, the media looked at creationists (or alleged creationists) in Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Britain, and Turkey, while atheist zealot Richard Dawkins repeated old criticisms of creationists and Time magazine tried to help Christians “reconcile” God and science.
The first half of the year also saw several key battles over the teaching of origins in America’s public schools (or changes to evolution education). Most prominent was a public school battle in Texas that intensified in spring (see our coverage in parts one, two, and three)—contemporaneous to a separate battle in Texas over the accreditation of a creation ministry, the Institute for Creation Research, offering graduate degrees.
Language in education guidelines in Louisiana encouraging students to “critique and review scientific theories” resulted in a boycott of the state by a biology conference, and Expelled host Ben Stein was effectively expelled (due to his Darwinism-challenging views) from delivering a university commencement address.
In the U.K., an interesting poll showed that the majority of teachers agree that “creationism should be discussed in schools,” while a single question on “creationism” in a GCSE exam was one too many for evolutionists. A British Council survey of some 11,000 people from nine countries showed that significant numbers want creation in the classroom. And in a rather unsurprising “insight,” University of Minnesota researchers gathered data to show that high school teachers do indeed influence students’ beliefs about creation and evolution.
Biblical Christianity continues to lose ground in society at large, polls confirmed in 2009. Christianity is no longer Americans’ “default faith,” the Barna Group reported, while a separate poll showed an increase in Americans with no religion (see also our second look)—and another poll suggested that new U.S. president Barack Obama is more popular than Jesus. Other surveys examined mainline Protestant clergy in detail; showed that, for the first time, American pro-lifers outnumber pro-choicers; revealed attitudes about science and scientists; and compared how different generations view and use the Bible.
Naturalistic researchers continued working to explain religion atheistically. Did religion evolve to help people exercise self-control? Does your brain create God and religion? Is prayer no different than ordinary conversation? Should we replace survival of the fittest with survival of the kindest?
In one of the biggest changes in the News to Note format since its inception, we introduced the “And Don’t Miss . . .” section in January. As we explained then, the purpose of the new feature is to “[offer] a short sentence or two and link to some of the best of the rest of the news we find or are tipped on” that we otherwise would lack the space to cover.
In the “And Don’t Miss . . .” spirit, we conclude 2009’s year-in-review issue of News to Note with brief mentions of some of the other items we looked at regularly in the past twelve months.
Thanks for joining us for another year of News to Note, our weekly feature examining news from the biblical creationist viewpoint. We also thank our readers for sending in great news tips to help us stay aware of breaking news. We’ll be back next week with more coverage of the latest research!