News to Note, February 13, 2010

A weekly feature examining news from the biblical viewpoint

on February 13, 2010
Featured in News to Know

Bird-to-dinosaur evolution, the name’s Inuk, the disappearing island, and more!

1. Rejection of Dinosaur-to-Bird Evolution Tale

“[M]ore evidence that birds did not descend from ground-dwelling theropod dinosaurs”: research from Oregon State University, home to evolutionists who reject the dinosaur-to-bird evolution tale.

2. ScienceNOW: “Ancient Human Sequenced for First Time

The most famous face in science news this week is that of “Inuk,” an ancient Greenlander whose genome was reconstructed from 4000-year-old hair.

Archaeologists discovered the clump of hair in the teeth of a whale-bone comb more than twenty years ago. Since then, the hair sat in the National Museum of Denmark until University of Copenhagen scientist Eske Willerslev decided to test it for DNA. A two-month process of sequencing allowed Willerslev’s team to map more than eighty percent of the original owner’s genome, offering great insight into the physical characteristics of the individual.

“He had brown eyes, brown skin, a tendency to baldness, dry earwax, and shovel-shaped front teeth,” explained Willerslev. Close examination also revealed no traces of European-only genes; rather, Inuk’s genome had similarities with Arctic and Native American populations. According to the researchers, this indicates that Inuk’s closest modern relatives are probably those living in northeastern Siberia. The Inuit who live on Greenland today, however, are not close genetic relatives of Inuk.

BBC News reports that the researchers believe Inuk’s group may have migrated from Siberia around 5,500 years ago, independently of the primary migration that populated the Americas. We can be confident that Inuk’s migration was a bit more recent—after the dispersion at Babel, closer to 4,200 years ago. However, the research does seem to suggest that the Americas may have been populated from Asia in multiple waves, depositing people groups with varying degrees of similarity. Why Inuk’s people died out in the Americas (assuming the team’s genetic conclusions are correct), we may never know.

3. BBC News: “Cassini Detection Adds to Enceladus Liquid Water Story

It’s no surprise that many astronomers cling to hopes for finding extraterrestrial life in our own solar system, despite the lack of evidence so far. But while Mars is such speculators’ biggest target, Saturn’s moon Enceladus has received considerable attention as well.

Astronomers believe the moon’s icy surface hides an ocean of liquid water, in many ways the “holy grail” in the search for extraterrestrial life. “Where there’s water, carbon and energy, some of the major ingredients for life are present,” University College London’s Andrew Coates told BBC News. The latest excitement is based on 2008 scans by space probe Cassini, which detected negatively charged water molecules (ions) in Enceladus’s atmosphere. This suggests movement in the water, such as occurs in waterfalls and breaking waves on Earth.

Although water movement is not the only way such ions could have originated, astronomers have already observed water vapor plumes breaking through the ice near Enceladus’s south pole. Cassini has also detected hydrocarbon ions, adding to astrobiologists’ interest in the moon. ScienceDaily carries a quotation on the news from the Cassini-funding Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Keith Mason: “This measurement of water ions in the ice plume of Enceladus is incredibly exciting and provides us with further hope of finding water and maybe even life on this distant icy moon.”

From the creationist perspective, the idea that having water and hydrocarbons in the same place might be enough for life is like expecting a pile of metal, plastic, rubber, and petroleum products to transform itself into a functioning automobile under the right circumstances.

4. Wired: “Stunningly Preserved 165-Million-Year-Old Spider Fossil Found

When it comes to fossils, people usually think about the bones of dinosaurs or the shells of marine creatures. Considering that, a nearly perfect fossil found in China is quite unique.

The fossils are of Eoplectreurys gertschi spiders, said to date to 165 million years ago. The fossils were found at a site thought to have been an ancient lake bed, filled with numerous kinds of fossils.

University of Kansas paleontologist Paul Selden, lead author on a study of the find, extolled the remarkable preservation of the spiders. “You go in with a microscope, and bingo! It’s fantastic.” He believes the fossils were formed during a volcanic eruption, when the spiders were trapped in volcanic ash. The find reminds us that such perfect fossils do not form in typical conditions; they generally require catastrophic circumstances to instantly bury a creature. Those circumstances would have been present throughout the Flood year (which likely included volcanic activity), which is why the Flood can help us explain the fossils found worldwide. Of course, even in catastrophic circumstances, not every fossil is intact.

Also notable is that the spiders are almost identical to their modern relatives. “Looking at modern ones, you think, well, it’s just a dead ringer,” Selden said of part of the spider anatomy. For creationists, of course, it’s no surprise to encounter spiders in the fossil record as fully formed creatures, little different from today.

For more information:

5. National Geographic News: “Undersea Volcano Erupts, May Form New Island

Do volcanic islands need millions of years to form? Or can they arrive in the geological equivalent of the blink of an eye?

Fewer than 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, and just three miles from World War II landmark Iwo Jima, lies an undersea volcano known as Fukutoku-Okanoba. It may not remain undersea for long, however. In early February the Japanese coast guard became aware of new eruptions from the regularly active volcano, and have continued observing the site in the meantime. National Geographic News carries several stunning photographs of the eruptions.

Lava has broken the ocean’s surface during previous Fukutoku-Okanoba eruptions, but never long enough to hold off the ocean’s erosive force. The most recent such time was in 1986, when an island survived for less than two months; National Geographic News reports that a five-mile-wide island formed in 1914 and remained for more than two years. Nonetheless, the process is identical to the formation of all volcanic islands, such as Surtsey—an island that formed off the coast of Iceland during the 1960s (and remains there today). Thus, Keiji Doi of the Japan Meteorological Agency said, “We have seen no evidence of an island being created yet, but it is possible, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

The formation of volcanic islands before our eyes shows that none would have needed millions and millions of years to form; given the right rate of volcanic output; even a large island can form rapidly. And although we cannot be sure, it seems intuitively likely that many of the volcanic islands with us today formed during the intense volcanic activity of the Flood year and since, in a short period of time of just 4,500 years.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Young-earth creationists argue that dragon legends reflect genuine human knowledge of and interactions with dinosaurs—an idea evolutionists and old-earth creationists scoff at. When it comes to “mythical” sea serpents, however, they are more real than some might think: the “strange appearance” of the giant oarfish “may have provided the basis for the sea serpent myths told by early ocean travellers,” BBC News reports. The serpentine deep-sea fish are known to grow up to 56 feet (17 m) long.
  • A series of dinosaur footprints—more than 3,000—all facing the same way: what’s the explanation? “Experts believe the prints are more than 100 million years old and say they could represent a migration or a panicked attempt to escape predators,” BBC News reports. Could the dinosaurs have been fleeing a colossal flood?
  • Could Neanderthals live again? asks an article about using Neanderthal DNA to (through cloning) create a “modern” Neanderthal. While Answers in Genesis would stand against such a procedure, our belief is that this Neanderthal would be almost indistinguishable from modern humans—and, as such, provide a powerful reminder that they, too, were descendants of Adam.
  • The moderately controversial Large Hadron Collider, deep beneath Geneva, has at last produced published results. So far, it has created no world-destroying black holes!
  • An unexpected design feature scientists are investigating are feathers that birds use to “touch,” much like a cat’s whiskers.
  • If the universe is “20 million years older than thought,” does that make it just over 20 million years old—since many scientists think it’s around 6,000 years old?
  • The “evolution” of butterfly markings is a fascinating study of adaptation and the forces of natural selection at work. As one scientist explains, “This tells us something about the limitations on evolution, and how predictable it is.” Exactly: natural selection on pre-existing genetic information isn’t the same process as supposed molecules-to-man evolution.
  • Could the removal of certain brain tumors trigger increased religiosity? A study reported on by ScienceNOW indicates that patients with malignant tumors in posterior brain regions were more likely to exhibit “self transcendent” behaviors after surgery. However, the report does not say what variables the study controlled for. Also, we’ll point out that linkages between brain activity and religious behavior do not limit religion to the brain; after all, a brain-damaged individual thinking he were a god would not prove or disprove atheism.
  • Is climate change real, and are humans responsible? Apparently fewer Britons think so than used to. For the Answers in Genesis perspective on global warming, start with “Global Warming: Fact or Fiction?

For More Information: Get Answers

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 all the latest News to Know, why not take a look to see what you’ve missed?

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