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News to Note, November 22, 2008

A weekly feature examining news from the biblical viewpoint

on November 22, 2008
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A “no rejection” solution, seeing is believing—but they’ll take aliens on faith, the big flop of foot evolution, embracing your inner marsupial, and more!

1. First Successful Windpipe Transplant

It’s a substantial victory in stem cell research—and a reminder that we don’t need to sacrifice life in pursuit of successful therapies.

2. ScienceNOW: “Astronomers See Exoplanets for First Time”

Considering all the conclusions astronomers have drawn about exoplanets, it’s surprising that they’ve never actually seen them. That is, until now.

For years the search for extrasolar planets has relied on indirect methods, such as watching as stars “wobble” because of the gravitational tug of their planets or looking for regular decreases in stars’ brightness as their planets pass in front of them. Through these methods, astronomers have inferred the size and, to some extent, the composition of these planets.

Now, researchers have taken the first step in directly observing exoplanets. A team led by Christian Marois of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (part of Canada’s National Research Council) used large telescopes with equipment that blocked out most of the parent star’s light. This allowed the team to detect the reflected light from three planets orbiting a star known as HR 8799, in the constellation Pegasus. Separately, a team led by Paul Kalas of the University of California–Berkeley identified a single exoplanet orbiting a star known as Fomalhaut.

That’s all the more impressive considering that the challenge of directly observing planets is like trying to spot a lit match next to a floodlight at a distance of a mile, BBC News reports.

So far, nearly all of the exoplanets detected have been distinctly un-earthlike—a reminder of how unique our world really is. Nevertheless, secular astronomers hope their new ability to see exoplanets will augment the search for alien life indicated, e.g., by this article’s “teaser” line on ScienceNOW: “Direct detection is the latest step toward discovering other, possibly inhabited, Earths.”

3. Human Ancestors Had Flexible Feet

The flip-flops of the past weren’t footwear, but rather feet. That’s 99 percent evolutionary spin and 1 percent imagination.

4. AP: “Big Hop Forward: Scientists Map Kangaroo’s DNA”

Is there a spring in your step? Maybe our (supposed) ancestors weren’t apemen, but rather kangaroomen!

Scientists from Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Kangaroo Genomics have sequenced the DNA of a kangaroo named Matilda—and found it’s more similar to the human genome that was first suspected.

The sequencing occurred last year, and scientists have just now finished completing the genetic map. “We’ve been surprised at how similar the [kangaroo and human] genomes are,” said project director Jenny Graves. “Great chunks of the genome are virtually identical.”

For evolutionists, genome similarity is as much (or more) a reflection of common ancestry than it is indicative of anatomical similarity, so no wonder they’re surprised—they believe the last common ancestor of humans and kangaroos lived 150 million years ago, long before evolutionists believe the dinosaurs went extinct and mammals began to dominate the landscape.

Creationists, on the other hand, understand that anatomical similarity explains genetic similarity, although we also have some genes in common with fruit—but that doesn’t make us all bananas!

Geneticists also continue to discover additional elements that distinguish species from one another, such as so-called “junk DNA” that is increasingly found to be functional. But ultimately, the difference between humankind and animal kinds originates not in the genome, but in Genesis: humans were made “in the image of God” (1:26–27), and animals weren’t. No matter how “similar” our genomes or our anatomies are, that is the most fundamental distinction.

5. Early Humans Born With Big Brains

It’s yet another human ancestor—but, once again, with a larger brain than us.

6. ScienceNOW: “Earth’s Minerals Evolved, Too”

The earth’s mineral composition has changed over the years. Of course, in today’s scientific climate, we refer to that as “evolution.”

According to a team led by Carnegie Institution geochemist Robert Hazen, the early earth may have contained the natural elements from the periodic table, but it wouldn’t have had many of the minerals we find today. That’s because, according to the team, most minerals are a product of life-forms, and thus mineral “evolution” is connected to biological evolution that Hazen’s team accepts.

Specifically, the team looked at almost 3,000 common minerals, connecting them back to about a dozen “ancient” minerals that organisms used to produce the rest. According to Hazen, “We argue that there are literally thousands of different minerals that formed only because life produced an oxygen-rich atmosphere.”

One such life-formed mineral is hazenite—yes, named after that Hazen—that forms from a phosphate produced by a microorganism in California’s Mono Lake, an alkaline environment.

According to Penn State University mineralogist Peter Heaney, the research offers “a novel way of considering minerals in the context of Earth’s history.” Of course, this new treatment of mineralogy is steeped in the preexisting evolutionary paradigm. And while it is interesting to understand the connection between God’s created life-forms and minerals, this instead sounds like a way to further expand evolutionary dogma throughout science, rather than concentrating on the actual science of the composition and potential usefulness of the minerals themselves.

7. Prehistoric Social Structures and Family Values

The family—how far back does it go?

8. Woolly Mammoth Genome Has Been Mapped

The genetic code of the woolly mammoth has finally been (mostly) mapped, and the question on (almost) everyone’s mind is: can we bring one back?

9. Gamma-Rays Illuminate Massive Martian Oceans

Thanks to the Mars Odyssey orbiter, there’s another drop of evidence that part of Mars was once covered in water.

10. Turtle Missing Link Found In Scotland

For the second time in two months, a turtle “missing link” is in the news.

11. LiveScience: “God and Evolution Can Co-exist, Scientist Says”

God and evolution didn’t coexist, our scientists say. So who are you to believe?

LiveScience reports on Eastern Nazarene College physicist Karl Giberson, an increasingly well-known Christian who embraces evolution. Giberson even debated Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham on the website Beliefnet.com last month—see Creation vs. Evolution.

Giberson is the author of Saving Darwin, which he discussed recently at the Harvard Club with skeptic Michael Shermer. (The event was sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.) Giberson’s stirring defense of theism was that “the mystery of God’s existence is a more satisfying mystery than the mystery of how can all this arise out of a particle” and that “I was raised believing in God, so . . . the onus would be on someone to stop me from believing.”

It’s not that we completely disagree with Giberson on those statements (although we would on others he made in the article); rather, these answers are strangely weak for someone who claims a plain reading of Genesis “robs it of everything that is interesting.” By stepping off the foundation of Scripture, Giberson can’t point to fundamental truth, but rather ends up claiming that religious mysteries are vaguely “more satisfying” than irreligious ones. That’s what happens when you try to “leave the Bible out of it”!


Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know 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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