News to Note, October 8, 2011

A weekly feature examining news from the biblical viewpoint

Microevolution writ younger, Orchids and their perfume pals, Did Jesus die for E.T.? Prefabricated placental blueprints, Archaic birds border the K-T

1. Evidence For Continuing Human Evolution Arguably Irrelevant

Big deal over small, arguably irrelevant changes

2. Bees and Orchids: Which is “Evolving” Faster?

Orchids pack their pollen on perfume-seeking bees.

3. Did God’s Plan Include Life On Other Planets?

Did E. T. sin, and, if so, did Jesus die to save him/it?

4. Placental Development Triggered by Genomic Parasites

Prefabricated package of genes prompts placental development.

5. Birds Buried with Dinos at K-T Boundary

Assorted archaic birds were buried with dinosaurs up to the K-T boundary.

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • An international team has assembled all known mammalian genomic data and with it has adjusted their phylogenetic tree. Their analysis uses a “relaxed molecular clock” which allows for different mutation rates in different kinds of animals. They of course calibrate their “time tree” with “age estimates for numerous fossil mammals.” Biologist Mark Springer explains, "We need to have calibrations to input into the analysis so that we know, for example, that elephants and their nearest relatives have been separate from each other since at least the end of the Paleocene -- more than 55 million years ago. We were able to put together a diverse assemblage of fossil calibrations from different parts of the mammalian tree, and we used it in conjunction with molecular information to assemble the most robust time tree based on sequenced data that has been developed to date." Geneticist William Murphy adds, "This study is the beginning of a larger plan to use large molecular data sets and sophisticated techniques for dating and estimating rates of diversification to resolve much larger portions of the mammalian tree, ultimately including all described species, as well as those that have gone recently extinct or for which only museum material may be available." The circular reasoning here should be very plain to see. Fossils are typically dated according to radiometric dating methods applied to the rock layers in which they are found. Those methods themselves are based on a number of unprovable assumptions.1 The molecular clock is calibrated on the basis of the fossil dates by assuming those creatures actually did evolve into each other—another unprovable assumption that assumes that genetic similarities prove common ancestry rather than revealing the common Designer. Then the molecular clock is used to deliver pronouncements about those same times. Despite offering the illusion of reliability with precise numerical data, evolutionary interpretations of the fossil record, molecular clocks, and the phylogenetic trees generated from them are no more reliable than broken clocks which are set to agree with each other.
  • There are remarkable niches for life on our planet, and that list of extreme habitats now includes the bottom of the Dead Sea. A diving team first found craters spewing fresh water into the 100-foot depths of the Dead Sea back in 2010 and is about to return for further exploration. Thick mats of bacteria have been found in craters 33 feet wide and 43 feet deep. These unusual bacteria thrive in the extremely salty water yet tolerate the fresh water that spews in periodically. “There are other hypersaline environments that are full of microbial life,” team member Ionescu noted, but tolerance for high levels of magnesium “in my opinion, makes our discovery even more surprising.” The upper parts of the craters contain bacteria that subsist on both sunlight and sulfides, and deeper are those that survive on sulfide alone. And no other kind of bacteria is known to be able to survive such shifts in salinity. God has equipped microorganisms with amazing adaptive abilities so that they can survive in changing conditions and continue to fulfill their niches in God’s Creation. These discoveries are a reminder that God’s original purpose in creating microorganisms probably included their role as an interface between the physical/chemical and living/biotic world.2 Literally and ironically, He even created a form of life that can survive in the depths of the inhospitable Dead Sea.
  • A fossilized troodontid theropod known as Talos sampsoni dug up in Utah has a fracture in the sickle-like claw of its second toe, leading to the suspicion that the animal held its toe off the ground as it walked. Earlier evidence from tracks supports this contention. Since the remainder of the skeleton is uninjured and the apparent bite-associated injury is partially healed, paleonotologists have come up with a number of behavioral conclusions that could possibly explain how the dinosaur used its claw. One interesting visual image is the idea that it may have wielded its talon like a sword. Dietary suggestions have also been made, proposing it must have been omnivorous to survive without hunting during the healing process. Study leader Lindsay Zanno says, “The more individual lines of evidence that we can add that can support the [weapon] hypothesis, the stronger it becomes.” But she admitted, “In the end we can never observe the behavior of this animal—it's always going to be controversial.” Thus we are reminded that a fossil does not demonstrate its behavior for us, and we should not accept dogmatic pronouncements about the diet and behavior of extinct creatures without a big grain of salt.

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